Category Warbirds



ohn Fredriksen’s book on international warbirds is a very welcome addition to the literature, for it goes beyond the conventional approach of most books on combat aircraft, which tend to emphasize only statistics, nomenclature, and operational his­tory. John includes all of these, of course, but he adds a human dimension that enlivens each of his descriptions and lets us see behind the machine to the people involved.

As one reads through the book, three things become apparent. The first of these is the high qual­ity of designers in all countries; the second is the critical nature of timing; and the third is the often overlooked importance of scale.

Fredriksen’s apt capture of the essence of these airplanes is an impressive achievement. He makes you realize just how amazing is the ingenu­ity of aircraft designers and builders all over the world. It is really remarkable how designers in all countries, regardless of their size, were able to maintain a parity in the performance of their de­signs over the years, even when the resources of a particular country might not match the resources of another.

There are many illustrations of this phenome­non. If one examines the beautiful biplane fighters of the late 1920s and early 1930s, one finds such ster­ling examples as the American Curtiss P-6E, English Hawker Fury, Czech Avia B 534, Italian Fiat CR 32, Japanese Nakajima A2N, and Soviet Polikarpov I 15. Each aircraft was the product of its own design stu­dio, and the designers had to accommodate the re­quirements of their armed service to the engines, equipment, and available materials. All were flown within roughly the same time frame, and all achieved roughly the same performance. A similar situation developed with the several generations of monoplane fighters, both those of the first genera­tion (Boeing P-26, PZL 11, Polikarpov I 16) and of the second (Messerschmitt Bf 109G, Hawker Hurri­cane, Supermarine Spitfire).

Even well into World War II, when the im­mense industrial resources of the Allies began to take their toll, Axis designers were able to come up with competitive aircraft, for example, the Focke – Wulf Fw 190D, Macchi C 205, and Nakajima Ki 84. And when the chips were really down, the Germans managed to excel with the Messerschmitt Me 262. Similar resilience was shown by the Soviet design­
ers, who managed to move a generation ahead in in­digenous fighter design with such capable aircraft as the Yakovlev series of fighters, and do it under the pressure of relocating factories and workforces even as the fighting was going on. In all of these achievements, it is the Olympic spirit of the human desire to excel that stands out.

If one accepts the inherent ability of designers of all countries to come up with comparable air­craft, one next has to look into the matter of timing, which is almost always dictated by political, rather than practical, events. Poland, for example, had one of the most modern air forces in the world in the early 1930s—but was unable to modernize it in time for World War II. France was in the same boat; it had created one of the largest air forces in the world, only to see it go to rack and ruin as a succession of peacetime governments refused to spend the money to modernize it. When at last the funds did begin to flow, it was far too late, and France fought World War II with inadequate equipment and inadequate numbers.

A crucial example of timing may be found in the air forces of Great Britain and Germany. Ger­many had an advantage, as it could create an air force at the same time that it was creating a timetable for going to war—and could thus be sure that they would coincide. So when Hitler struck Poland on September 1, 1939, the Luftwaffe was filled with new and modern aircraft that were de­signed for the job they had to do.

Britain’s situation was different. It had dod­dered along for years after World War I with open- cockpit biplanes fitted with fixed gear, two light ma­chine guns, and a fixed-pitch propeller. Fortunately, two far-seeing companies, Hawker and Superma­rine, were willing to speculate on the future with their Hurricane and Spitfire designs, building proto­types on spec and counting on the government to recognize their worth. (Coincidentally, at the same time, the Royal Air Force became convinced that fighters needed eight-gun armament and they were so equipped.) As it happened, the Hurricane and the Spitfire began to arrive in sufficient numbers just as the Battle of Britain commenced in 1940.

The case of the United States was different. Not only did it sit out the war for two years—until 1941—it had the advantage of the Anglo-French Pur­chasing Commission buying lots of aircraft and

– Xiii –



building up the U. S. industrial base. And this brings us to the third element: scale.

The aggressor nations—Germany, Japan, and, to a lesser extent, Italy—had a preconceived notion of how aerial warfare should take place. In each case they presumed that they would be the aggres­sor nation, that they would fight a sharp, swift war against a less well equipped opponent, and would then pause to regroup and reequip.

Their calculations indicated that a first-line air force of 3,000-4,000 aircraft would be adequate for the task. Great Britain and France thought along similar lines. Only in the Soviet Union and, to a far greater extent, in the United States did the planners envision operations on a grand scale. Incredibly enough, in the United States four men (Lieutenant Colonels Harold L. George and Haywood S. “Pos­sum” Hansell Jr. and Majors Laurence S. Kuter and Kenneth W. Walker) would in nine days create Air War Plan Document-1, which would clearly and ac­curately outline the mammoth scale of American air operations.

Of the three elements under discussion—qual­ity, timing, and quantity—the last ultimately proved to be of the greatest value. Germany and Japan were
trapped by the early successes provided by the qual­ity of their aircraft and the timing with which they were built. The successes merely confirmed their opinion that a small, highly trained air force was all that was necessary. When the tide of war changed, and massive numbers of enemy aircraft opposed them, they began frantically to build—but to no avail. Despite all their efforts (and Germany achieved an incredible 44,000 aircraft produced in 1944), it was far too little and far too late. The Allies’ industrial output (mainly thanks to the United States and the Soviet Union and, to a lesser degree, Great Britain) had so far outstripped them in quantity that the war was already lost. And perhaps fittingly, the length of the war had switched the effect of timing, so that many new designs of the highest quality were now entering frontline Allied service.

It is to be hoped that John Fredriksen’s fine book will be widely read by the decisionmakers in the United States, who might then see that having aircraft of high quality is often not enough; you must also have them in sufficient numbers to overcome a determined enemy.

Walter Boyne

– Xiv-


. Canadair CL 28 Argus Canada

Type: Patrol-Bomber; Antisubmarine

Dimensions: wingspan, 142 feet, 3 inches; length, 128 feet, 9 inches; height, 38 feet, 8 inches Weights: empty, 81,000 pounds; gross, 157,000 pounds

Power plant: 4 x 3,400-horsepower Wright R-3350-EA1 Cyclone radial engines Performance: maximum speed, 315 miles per hour; ceiling, 25,000 feet; range, 5,900 miles Armament: 8,000 pounds of internal ordnance; 3,800 pounds of wing-mounted ordnance Service dates: 1957-1981


t the time of its debut, the all-seeing Argus was the world’s most advanced antisubmarine pa­trol-bomber. Although partly based upon a commer­cial airliner, it flew for more than two decades with distinction.

By 1952 the Royal Canadian Air Force wished to replace its antiquated Avro Lancasters and Lock­heed P2V Neptunes with a new craft better suited for antisubmarine (ASW) warfare. Such a machine would have to conduct lengthy patrols over open ocean and carry with the latest radar and sonar equipment. The RCAF consulted closely with Canadair and agreed that the most cost-effective so­lution for a new patrol-bomber would be to utilize an existing commercial craft. For that reason, Canadair selected the Bristol Britannia as the basis for its work. The tail unit, wings, and undercarriage of the Britannia were kept intact, but the fuselage was entirely redesigned to North American stan­dards. It featured two capacious, 18-foot bomb bays, before and aft of the wings, that could house a vari­
ety of depth charges, sonobuoys, and homing torpe­does. Pressurization was also eliminated, as it was unnecessary for low-altitude maritime patrols. The first CL 28 rolled out in March 1957 and was suc­cessfully test-flown. That same year it entered pro­duction as the Argus, so named for the all-seeing, 100-eyed monster of Greek mythology. The first 12 units, designated Argus Is, utilized U. S.-built sonar and computers, but the subsequent version, the Argus II, operated more advanced British equip­ment. A total of 33 machines were constructed.

For many years the CL 28 functioned as the West’s most advanced antisubmarine aircraft. It car­ried a crew of 15, who operated in shifts to ease the burden of long flights. Successive modifications also enabled the Argus to carry a complex variety of new weapons and equipment, which further enhanced its utility. The last of these useful machines was retired in 1981 by the more advanced Lockheed P-2C Orion, itself based on a commercial airliner. The Argus was a vital but little appreciated Canadian machine.

. LeO 20

Dimensions: wingspan, 73 feet; length, 45 feet, 3 inches; height, 13 feet, 11 inches

Weights: empty, 6,008 pounds; gross, 12,037 pounds

Power plant: 2 x 420-horsepower Gnome-Rhone 9 Ady radial engines

Performance: maximum speed, 123 miles per hour; ceiling, 18,900 feet; range, 621 miles

Armament: 5 x 7.7mm machine guns; 2,205 pounds of bombs

Service dates: 1928-1939


he LeO 20 was the standard French heavy night bomber for over a decade. Although slow and underpowered, it served admirably in a variety of functions.

The Liore et Olivier (LeO) firm was founded in 1912 at Levallois-Perret, and throughout World War I it manufactured various Nieuport, Morane-Saulnier, and Sopwith designs under license. The firm then es­tablished itself as a major force in French aviation design, specializing in large bombers. In 1924 speci­fications were issued for a new night bomber and the firm’s prototype, the LeO 32, proved a rival to the bigger Farman Goliath and just as capable. This was followed by the LeO 122 of 1926, which was not pro­duced but served as a model for a subsequent air­craft, the LeO 20 which was a conventional biplane bomber with three-bay, equal-span wings (a consis­tent LeO trait) melded to a deep, rather rectangular fuselage. The nose housed a gunner’s cockpit while a bombardier’s station was placed directly below him. Two radial engines sat in uncowled nacelles on
the lower wings, to which were affixed large “trousered” landing gear. Despite its appearance, the LeO 20 was stable, handled well, and functioned ca­pably as a night bomber. The French Armee de l’Air eventually acquired 320 of these cumbersome ma­chines, and they formed the backbone of French nighttime attack squadrons for a decade. This func­tional design attracted overseas interest, and seven LeO 20s were exported to Romania.

The reliable LeOs underwent a number of ex­perimental developments throughout their long ser­vice life. The LeO 206 was a four-engine variant that entered production in 1932 with a run of 40 machines. Less successful was the LeO 208, which featured nar­row-chord lower wings, bigger engines, and re­tractable landing gear. It offered better performance than the stock LeO 20 but was not produced. Several machines, designated LeO 201s, were also outfitted for training of parachute forces in 1937. By the advent of World War II, nearly 100 LeO 20s were still em­ployed as target tugs or trainers in North Africa.



irplanes are certainly fascinating machines.

Since their invention in 1903, they continue capturing the world’s imagination. Not surprisingly, aviation literature remains one of the most popular facets of the history genre. Year after year, an ava­lanche of picture books, directories, and histories— particularly about military aircraft—are published for the entertainment and enlightenment of inter­ested readers, both professional and layperson alike. This sheer outpouring of literature can some­times represent a problem for parties interested in testing the rather deep waters of this topic: How and where does one begin? This is an especially daunt­ing proposition for students with little experience in historical research. Curiously, despite a highly de­veloped body of literature available, aviation refer­ence books have been less successful in bringing in­formation quickly and easily to the attention of casual users. Most titles are, in fact, written by spe­cialists with specialists in mind, or at least for read­ers steeped in the nuances of the technology. Nei­ther is the coverage of world military aircraft afforded by these books necessarily uniform. Refer­ence material on airplanes from World War I, World War II, and contemporary times are plentiful, but few address aeronautical developments of the so – called Golden Age (1919-1939). For students and laypersons interested in pursuing the aeronautical facts and feats of this essential period, this gap is an obstacle to effective research.

The present work is an attempt to address all the problems associated with aviation research books in general, reference books in particular. Drawing upon the success of my earlier volume (Warbirds: An Illustrated Guide to U. S. Military Aircraft, 1915-2000, published in 1999 by ABC – CLIO), International Warbirds is designed to ad­dress student inquiries about specific types of air­planes on a global scale. Simultaneously, it also contains sufficient breadth and depth to satiate most advanced researchers. However, unlike Warbirds, I drop all pretense toward comprehensiveness. That claim would require a book two or three times the size of this volume. Being restricted to only 336 en­tries, I was hard-pressed to assemble a list that was objective, far-reaching, and afforded good coverage of the most famous machines, not to mention a myr­iad of lesser-known ones. I believe I succeeded in compiling a useful, working survey. Naturally, any thorough treatment of airplanes is going to be domi­nated by the big five: France, Germany, Great Britain, Japan, and Russia. All their famous aircraft, and a host of lesser types, are included. However, I went to great lengths to cover interesting machines from smaller countries, be they powerhouses like Israel and Canada, or developing nations like China, India, or Brazil. Wherever possible, I sought to accommo­date as eclectic a collection of interesting or unusual airplanes from around the world as possible. I cer­tainly wanted to avoid the usual Eurocentric ap­proach to aviation history, for no one nation can claim a monopoly on military technology.

Given the constraints on space, my selection criteria were highly selective by necessity. I there­fore chose aircraft that have been manufactured and actually deployed by military and naval units in some kind of squadron service. As in my previous venture, experimental prototypes—regardless of their celebrity or infamy—have been deliberately omitted. I believe my otherwise thorough coverage more than compensates for their absence.

To facilitate reader access, this book shares great commonality with its predecessor. Each entry consists of a photograph and a succinct account of each machine. Here I provide essential technical in­formation such as dimensions, performance, power plant, armament, and service dates. Each narrative is carefully crafted to contextualize the airplanes in terms of development, deployment, and denoue­ment. Special attention is paid to any record-break­ing feats or unusual features that may have distin­guished each in its time. Furthermore, everything has been rendered in direct, nontechnical prose for ease of comprehension. My goal throughout is to be exacting in scope without becoming burdensome in detail.

To facilitate additional inquiry, two detailed subject bibliographies are included in the rear mat­ter of this book. This feature was added to counter a personal pique of mine with many so-called refer­ence books about military aviation. On more than one occasion, I have become intrigued by entries discovered in the works of aeronautical mavens such as William Green, Bill Gunston, and Kenneth Munson, only to discover that no further references have been provided! Such material can, in fact, be uncovered eventually, but only after expending much time and effort. Therefore, I proffer two avia-


tion bibliographies that are extensive and reflect some of the very latest literature available. The first (Aircraft Bibliography) painstakingly denotes printed materials available on an airplane-by-airplane basis. Wherever possible, material on the parent company is also provided for greater historical context. This assemblage has been carefully collected from WorldCat and other online sources to ensure that each book or magazine can be accessed through in­terlibrary loan. Furthermore, magazine articles, if not borrowed outright, can also be copied from many aviation museum libraries for a small charge, or ordered directly from the publisher. The second bibliography (General Bibliography) was culled from a vast number of titles pertaining to national aviation history. All are listed alphabetically by country, then in identical fashion by author. These materials represent the most recent titles on avia­tion literature anywhere. As previously noted, their availability was confirmed by WorldCat, and all should be easily obtained through loan or purchase.

I next sought to enhance this volume’s utility through the addition of several appendixes. For the benefit of readers unacquainted with the history or applications of military aviation, Appendix 1: Aircraft by Mission identifies aircraft by the function they per­formed. Whenever an aircraft is employed in more than one mission, it is listed in each appropriate al­phabetical category by name. Appendix 2: Museums is a listing of many of the biggest air museums from across the world. Appendix 3: Aircraft Journals and Magazines concludes the book by listing non-U. S. avi­ation magazines, many of which are in English or contain printed English-language translations.

The author would like to acknowledge and thank many people for their selfless contributions to this effort. Aviation author and scholar Walter Boyne needs no introduction, and his review of the manuscript and comments were extremely helpful. Walt was also generous enough to provide a Fore­word that is both cogent and thought provoking. Also noted are John H. Bolthouse III and Miles Todd of the San Diego Aerospace Museum and Nilda Per – gola-Jensen of the Defense Visual Information Cen­ter for their cheerful assistance in locating photo­graphs. I am also deeply indebted to Joan McKenny and Dan Hagerdorn of the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution. The same applies to Leo Opdyke of World War I Aero, Gerard Frawley of Australian Aviation, Avro Haav of Estonia, Jan Eric Keikke of the Netherlands, and Gordon G. Bart­ley of British Aerospace. Gratitude is also extended to that aviation research stalwart, Bill Hooper of the New England Air Museum Library, for both patience and permission to ransack—literally—his holdings. My editors, Alicia S. Merrit and Liz Kincaid, also warrant kudos for exemplary endurance in handling my many and impossible requests. Finally, I want to voice a personal note of thanks to aviation artist Charles Kourmphtes of Warwick, Rhode Island, Bob Gordon of Uncasville, Connecticut, for unfettered use of his private library, and Robert E. Schnare of the Henry E. Eccles Library, U. S. Naval War College, for access to his splendid facility. As with my previ­ous endeavor, I could have neither begun nor fin­ished this book without them.

John C. Fredriksen, Ph. D.

. Canadair CL 41 Tutor

Type: Trainer; Light Bomber

Dimensions: wingspan, 36 feet, 6 inches; length, 32 feet; height, 9 feet, 4 inches

Weights: empty, 4,895 pounds; gross, 7,778 pounds

Power plant: 1 x 2,950-pound thrust Orenda J85-CAN J4 turbojet engine

Performance: maximum speed, 480 miles per hour; ceiling, 42,200 feet; range, 1,340 miles

Armament: none, or up to 4,000 pounds of bombs and rockets

Service dates: 1963-


he diminutive Tutor remains Canada’s standard jet training craft. As part of the famed Snow­birds demonstration team, it has thrilled thousands of spectators with precision acrobatics.

In 1958 Canadair began investigating the possi­bly of constructing Canada’s first jet trainer. This was regarded as essential for familiarizing students with the flight characteristics of jet aircraft then en­tering service in ever greater numbers. However, even when the Canadian government expressed no interest, Canadair continued with a private, com­pany-funded project. The prototype CL 41 took flight in 1960 following a short gestation. It was a low – wing, all-metal monoplane with straight wings and an upward-opening canopy. Pilot and student were seated side by side in a spacious cockpit. The craft also employed a high “T” tail, retractable tricycle landing gear, and air brakes. The CL 41 performed well, and, in parallel with developments in the United States and England, the Canadian govern­ment acquired it in numbers. Since 1963, 190 CL 41s, under the official designation CT 114 Tutor, have
been purchased. These are all deployed at the No. 2 Flying School at Moosejaw, Saskatchewan, where pilots are trained up to wing standard and beyond. Other Tutors are employed by the Central Flying School, where instructor-pilots are taught. Their most famous unit, the Snowbirds, is an internation­ally renowned precision flying group composed en­tirely of instructors from that school. They operated stock but highly painted CL 41s outfitted with smoke generators for effect.

In the wake of various insurgency movements throughout Asia, the Malaysian government in 1967 needed to acquire an inexpensive strike aircraft. It approached Canadair to produce a militarized ver­sion of the Tutor, the CL 41G, which featured more powerful engines and hardpoints for hauling ord­nance. Malaysia acquired 20 such machines as the Tebuan (Wasp), which have since been retired due to metal fatigue and corrosion. Canada maintains a fleet of about 100 machines, and they will remain its standard jet trainer well into the twenty-first century.

. Canadair CL 41 Tutor

Type: Patrol-Bomber

Dimensions: wingspan, 73 feet, 10 inches; length, 46 feet, 10 inches; height, 14 feet, 6 inches Weights: empty, 8,466 pounds; gross, 15,510 pounds

Power plant: 1 x 900-horsepower Isotta-Fraschini liquid-cooled inline engine Performance: maximum speed, 171 miles per hour; ceiling, 22,965 feet; range, 1,490 miles Armament: 3 x 7.7mm machine guns; up to 1,404 pounds of bombs Service dates: 1936-1950


he Z 501 was a record-breaking flying boat that saw widespread service with Italian forces. De­spite obvious obsolescence, it fought actively in World War II and was utilized by both sides.

Cantiere Navale Triestino (CANT) was formed in 1923 to design and build water-based aircraft for civilian and military applications. In 1931 fascist dic­tator Benito Mussolini dispatched his famous air marshal, Italo Balbo, to lure Filippo Zappata, one of Italy’s finest aircraft designers, back from France. The entreaties worked, and in 1934 Zappata designed his first CANT aircraft—the Z 501. It was a single-en­gine flying boat constructed entirely of wood and fabric. A study in contrasts, its beautifully stream­lined fuselage and gracefully elliptical wings were offset by unsightly bracing. It seated five crew mem­bers, including pilot and copilot in the cabin, two gunners, and a flight engineer stationed behind the nacelle to monitor the engine and man a machine gun. In 1934 noted pilot Mario Stoppani flew the pro­totype on a record-breaking 2,560-mile flight from

Monfalcone to Eritrea. The French subsequently broke the record in 1935, but Stoppani won it back again when his Z 501 ranged 3,080 miles from Mon – falcone to British-held Somalia. Such excellent per­formance pleased Italian authorities, and in 1936 the Gabbiano (Gull) entered production as the only fly­ing boat in the Regia Aeronautica (Italian air force).

In service the Z 501 was well-liked, being easy to fly and maintain. It initially fought in the Spanish Civil War by conducting bombing missions from Ma­jorca. The Gabbiano flew well, but as a wood and fabric machine it was hopelessly outclassed for the rigors of World War II. Z 501s flew missions through­out the Mediterranean and suffered heavy losses. The craft was also deployed in squadron strength by Romania, which operated on the Black Sea against Soviet forces. By the time of the 1943 Italian surren­der, only a handful remained in service, equally di­vided between pro – and antifascist forces. Several surviving Gabbianos were maintained in service until 1950.

. Canadair CL 41 Tutor

Type: Torpedo-Bomber; Reconnaissance

Dimensions: wingspan, 81 feet, 4 inches; length, 60 feet, 2 inches; height, 17 feet, 1 inch Weights: empty, 19,338 pounds; gross, 30,029 pounds

Power plant: 3 x 1,000-horsepower Piaggio P. XI bis (improved) radial engines Performance: maximum speed, 280 miles per hour; ceiling, 24,600 feet; range, 1,370 miles Armament: 2 x 7.7mm or 12.7mm machine guns; up to 4,410 pounds of bombs or torpedoes Service dates: 1937-1945


he Z 506 was one of the most versatile float­planes ever built and set several world records. It functioned throughout the Mediterranean in World War II as torpedo and reconnaissance craft.

In 1936 Filippo Zapata designed the CANT Z 506A, an all-wood trimotor float transport aircraft. Streamlined and ruggedly built, several were ac­quired by the airline Ala Littoria and established a reputation for good handling and reliability. That year test pilot Mario Stoppani helped establish 16 world distance and payload records in the Z 506A. Such excellent performance caught the attention of the Regia Aeronautica (Italian air force), and CANT was persuaded to develop a bomber/reconnais – sance version for the military. The prototype emerged in 1937 sporting a long ventral gondola under the fuselage and a dorsal turret. Like its civil­ian counterpart, the new craft exhibited outstand­ing aerial and water characteristics. The large streamlined floats were specially designed to en­able the craft to take off and land in water as rough
as Force 5 conditions. These excellent seaplanes, designated the Airone (Heron), became operational in 1937, and several campaigned during the closing stages of the Spanish Civil War. By the time Italy en­tered World War II in 1940, Z 506Bs outfitted two re­connaissance groups.

Airones were initially employed as torpedo – bombers, and against relatively weak aerial opposi­tion they attacked numerous French and Greek tar­gets. They proved less successful facing determined resistance from the Royal Navy, and the slow-flying floatplanes sustained serious losses. Thereafter, most Z 506Bs conducted coastal reconnaissance, convoy escort, and antisubmarine operations. Once the Italian armistice was signed in 1943, 28 Airones managed to reach Allied lines. They were employed as rescue craft in southern Italy until the end of the war. A handful were also operated by the Luftwaffe, and it was a Z 506B that successfully evacuated Mussolini to safety. A total of 563 were built; a hand­ful performed air/sea rescue operations until 1959.

. Canadair CL 41 Tutor

Type: Medium Bomber; Torpedo-Bomber

Dimensions: wingspan, 81 feet, 4 inches; length, 60 feet, 2 inches; height, 17 feet, 1 inch Weights: empty, 19,338 pounds; gross, 30,029 pounds

Power plant: 3 x 1,000-horsepower Piaggio P. XI bis (improved) radial engine Performance: maximum speed, 280 miles per hour; ceiling, 24,600 feet; range, 1,370 miles Armament: 4 x 7.7mm or 12.7mm machine guns; up to 4,410 pounds of bombs or torpedoes Service dates: 1939-1945


he graceful Alcione was Italy’s second most im­portant bomber of World War II. Despite wooden construction and weak defensive arma­ment, it rendered useful service on many fronts.

In 1935 Filippo Zapata’s success with the Z 506 floatplane inspired him to explore the possibility of a similar land-based bomber, the first such craft pro­duced by CANT. Two years later the prototype Z 1007 flew as a low-wing monoplane of trimotor configura­tion. The reason for three motors was that Italian en­gines produced decidedly lower horsepower. In fact, a competing two-engine design, the Z 1011, was rejected by the Regia Aeronautica (Italian air force) as under­powered. The Z 1007 also employed outdated wooden construction, but that kept its overall weight down. One possible weakness was the armament, which was restricted to four 7.7mm machine guns in dorsal, ven­tral, and beam-hatch positions. Test pilots nonetheless enjoyed its fine flying characteristics, and in 1939 it en­tered production as the Alcione (Kingfisher). When

Italy joined World War II in 1940, only 55 Z 1007s were available. Many were the bis (improved) model, fea­turing heavier guns and better engines. Curiously, the Alciones were built in both single – and twin-rudder configurations, without differing designations, flying side by side in the same squadrons.

In service the Alcione was Italy’s most impor­tant bomber after the SM 79 Sparviero. They ranged the length of the Mediterranean and performed bombing missions in Greece, France, North Africa, and Russia. The Z 1007 was also quite adept at anti­shipping functions and could be outfitted with a pair of 1,000-pound torpedoes. Even though a good basic design and easy to fly, the Alcione remained poorly defended and suffered heavy losses at the hands of Royal Air Force fighters. This resulted in curtail­ment of daylight operations over Malta in favor of night bombing. After the Italian surrender of 1943, Alciones continued serving both sides up through the end of the war. A total of 563 were constructed.

. LeO 451

Type: Medium Bomber

Dimensions: wingspan, 73 feet, 9 inches; length, 56 feet, 4 inches; height, 17 feet, 4 inches Weights: empty, 17,229 pounds; gross, 25,133 pounds Power plant: 2 x 1,140-horsepower Gnome-Rhone 14N 48/49 radial engines Performance: maximum speed, 308 miles per hour; ceiling, 29,350 feet; range, 1,429 miles Armament: 2 x 7.5mm machine guns; 1 x 20mm cannon; up to 3,307 pounds of bombs Service dates: 1939-1945


he LeO 451 was the best French bomber of World War II and one of few available in quantity. It fought well during the Battle of France and also flew capably in the hands of Vichy French pilots.

No sooner had the Armee de l’Air become inde­pendent in April 1933 than it pressed for immediate expansion and modernization programs. Part of this entailed development of a new four-seat medium bomber capable of day and night operations. In 1937 the firm Liore et Olivier fielded its Model 451 proto­type, which marked a breakthrough in French bomber design. It was an all-metal, midwing, twin-en­gine craft with a glazed nose and twin rudders. In contrast to the ungainly aircraft of the early 1930s, the LeO 451 was beautifully streamlined and per­formed as good as it looked. Operationally, however, the type suffered from technical detriments that were never fully corrected. It had been designed for 1,600- horsepower engines at a time when no such power plants were available. Hence, employing 1,000-horse­power motors, LeO 451s remained significantly un­
derpowered and never fulfilled their design potential. Worse still, when the French government decided to acquire the bomber in quantity, bureaucratic lethargy militated against mass production. By September 1939 only five LeO 451s had been delivered.

The German onslaught in Poland energized French aircraft production, and when the Battle of France commenced in May 1940 around 450 LeO 451s were available. They had been designed for medium-level bombing, but the speed of the Ger­man blitzkrieg necessitated their employment in low-level ground attacks. The bomber served well in that capacity, but, exposed to enemy fighters and an­tiaircraft fire, serious losses ensued. Yet the type re­mained in production after France’s capitulation, with an additional 150 being acquired. These were actively flown against the Allies in North Africa be­fore Vichy France was occupied by the Germans. They confiscated about 94 LeO 451s; stripped of ar­mament, these were flown as transports. A handful survived into the postwar period as survey aircraft.

Подпись: Letov S 328

Подпись: Type: Light Bomber; Reconnaissance


Dimensions: wingspan, 44 feet, 11 inches; length, 33 feet, 11 inches; height, 11 feet, 2 inches

Weights: empty, 3,704 pounds; gross, 5,820 pounds

Power plant: 1 x 635-horsepower Bristol Pegasus radial engine

Performance: maximum speed, 174 miles per hour; ceiling, 23,620 feet; range, 435 miles Armament: 4 x 7.92mm machine guns; up to 1,102 pounds of bombs Service dates: 1933-1944


useful craft, the Letov S 328 was designed for Finland yet deployed by Czechoslovakia. Ironi­cally, it flew actively during World War II in the hands of numerous belligerents.

In 1931 the Czechoslovakian Letov firm, which had manufactured airplanes since 1918, developed a two-seat reconnaissance/utility machine for Estonia called the S 228. It was a fine machine, and the follow­ing year the Finnish government asked for a similar craft. A team headed by Alois Smolik responded with the S 328, which borrowed heavily from the earlier design. It was a single-bay biplane with staggered wings of equal length. Both the wings and fuselage were made of metal framework and fabric-covered, although the engine area sported alloy panels. Provi­sions were made for two forward-firing machine guns up front, with a similar armament for the gunner/ob – server. Like all Letov products, the S 328 was a first – rate machine, but orders from Finland never materi­alized. The changing political climate of Europe, occasioned by Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in 1933,
then induced the Czech government to acquire S 328s in quantity. A total of 445 machines were constructed, including several night-fighter and floatplane variants.

In March 1939 German forces occupied Bo – hemia/Moravia and acquired all existing stocks of S 328. Interestingly enough, the type was kept in pro­duction for another year. The excellent Letovs were subsequently impressed into Luftwaffe service as trainers, but others were doled out to the puppet Slovakian air force. Several S 328s accompanied the invasion of Poland that year and acquitted them­selves well. Two years later S 328s were present dur­ing the German invasion of the Soviet Union, al­though many Slovak pilots defected along with their aircraft. Those remaining in German hands were employed as night fighters to foil the harassing raids of Polikarpov Po 2s. Finally, a small number of S 328s ended up with the Bulgarian air force for pa­trolling the Black Sea. The hardworking Letovs saw their final service during the 1944 Slovakian uprising against German forces.

. LeO 451

Type: Reconnaissance

Dimensions: wingspan, 33 feet, 10 inches; length, 25 feet, 3 inches; height, 9 feet, 6 inches Weights: empty, 1,680 pounds; gross, 2,824 pounds

Power plant: 1 x 160-horsepower Mercedes D III liquid-cooled in-line engine Performance: maximum speed, 103 miles per hour; ceiling, 15,000 feet; range, 500 miles Armament: 2 x 7.92mm machine guns Service dates: 1916-1917


hen it appeared in 1916, the LFG Roland C II was an unusual and effective German recon­naissance craft of World War I. Simultaneously streamlined yet rotund, it was affectionately known to crew members as the “Whale.”

The firm Luftfahrzeug Gesellschaft was founded in 1906 with a view toward constructing airships. Shortly before the onset of World War I, it modified its name to LFG Roland to avoid confusion with another firm, LVG. For two years into the war, LFG manufactured Albatros fighters, but by 1916 the company was ready to field its own design.

The new craft debuted in the spring of 1916 as a two-seat reconnaissance vehicle of most unusual lines. In fact, compared to contemporary German observation craft, beset with numerous struts and wires, the LFG Roland C II represented a tremen­dous advance in the art of streamlining. The most obvious aspect of this was the plywood-covered monocoque fuselage, which was very deep and ta­
pered off to the rear. The two wings were wedded directly to it, thereby closing the interplane gap and giving both pilot and gunner unrestricted views up and forward. The highly staggered wings were also buttressed by a single “I” strut to minimize drag. The net result was an extremely modern design that an­ticipated the CL-class aircraft of the late war. In light of its somewhat tubby appearance, the C II was un­officially dubbed the Walfisch (Whale).

In service the C II proved itself to be fast, rugged, and difficult to shoot down. On occasion, the nimble craft was called upon to serve as an es­cort fighter to slower C-series reconnaissance air­planes. However, its peculiarly thin wings gave it mediocre climbing abilities, and the pilot’s view downward was also poor, leading to a propensity for accidents while landing. Within a year the C II was withdrawn from service on the Western Front and relegated to secondary theaters and training func­tions. An estimated 250-300 had been constructed.

. LeO 451

Type: Fighter


Dimensions: wingspan, 29 feet, 4 inches; length, 22 feet, 8 inches; height, 10 feet, 2 inches

Weights: empty, 1,397 pounds; gross, 1,749 pounds

Power plant: 1 x 180-horsepower Argus liquid-cooled in-line engine

Performance: maximum speed, 112 miles per hour; ceiling, 16,400 feet; range, 230 miles

Armament: 2 x 7.92mm machine guns

Service dates: 1917-1918


he LFG Roland D II was a failed attempt to mod­ify the successful C II Walfisch (Whale) into a single-seat fighter. Despite an attractive appearance, it was tricky to fly, heavy on the controls, and infe­rior to contemporary Albatros fighters.

By 1916 the outstanding performance of the two-seat LFG Roland CII induced that company to de­velop a single-seat fighter along similar lines. The pro­totype first flew in July of that year and bore unmis­takable resemblance to its predecessor. Like the C II, the new D I possessed a rather deep, fishlike outline. The cross-sectioned oval fuselage was constructed from a wooden monocoque shell that left the engine almost completely buried. The front end possessed metal engine-access panels, typical Roland cooling vents, and terminated in a large, bowl-shaped pro­peller spinner. Meanwhile, the two equal-chord wings were unstaggered and lacked dihedral. Moreover, the upper span attached directly to the fuselage, com­pletely filling in the gap. A relatively small wooden rudder and broad, trapezoidal tailplanes outfitted the
rear quarter. In view of the D I’s slimmer appearance, it was unofficially dubbed the Haifisch (Shark).

From the onset, unfortunately, the D I exhib­ited poor flying characteristics for a fighter. Both forward and downward views from the cockpit were obstructed by the wings, placing pilots at a serious disadvantage. In an attempt to rectify this defi­ciency, a new model, the D II, evolved with a modi­fied center section for improved vision. This con­sisted of a long, narrow pylon and a cut-down cockpit. The aircraft, however, remained sluggish to maneuver, heavy on the controls, and clearly infe­rior to the Albatros scouts they were meant to re­place. A total of 300 D IIs were manufactured, but in view of their inferior qualities they were confined mostly to secondary theaters like Macedonia and quiet sectors of the Western Front. A final version, the D III, emerged in late 1917 with more conven­tional struts affixing the upper wing, and 150 ma­chines were eventually built, serving mostly as ad­vanced trainers.


. LeO 451

Type: Reconnaissance

Dimensions: wingspan, 45 feet, 11 inches; length, 29 feet, 6 inches; height, 11 feet, 1 inch

Weights: empty, 1,859 pounds; gross, 2,888 pounds

Power plant: 1 x 160-horsepower Daimler liquid-cooled engine

Performance: maximum speed, 85 miles per hour; ceiling, 9,843 feet; range, 180 miles

Armament: 2 x 7.92mm machine guns

Service dates: 1914-1917


leek-looking Lloyd biplanes were among the best of their kind in the early days of World War I. They performed useful field service before obsoles­cence relegated them to training duties.

The firm Ungarische Lloyd Flugzeug und Mo – torenfabrik AG fielded its first military biplane de­sign in 1914, shortly before the commencement of World War I. Its C I was a streamlined design, unique in being entirely covered by wood, not fab­ric. It also possessed two-bay, swept-back wings whose trailing edges flared dramatically rearward. In 1914 a Model C I piloted by Henrik Bier set an al­titude record of 20,243 feet, which brought it to the attention of the Austrian military. One day following the declaration of war against Serbia in August, Lloyd was immediately contracted to provide two – seat biplanes for reconnaissance purposes. The C I performed yeoman’s work over the Italian front for nearly two years and was the sole Austrian craft that could safely negotiate the 13,000-foot mountain ranges there. Within a year a new model, the C II,
had been introduced, which mounted a stronger en­gine and a single Schwarzlose machine gun for the observer. In 1916 the most numerous model, the C III, was deployed. It featured a 160-horsepower Daimler engine and a fixed machine gun on the upper wing that fired above the propeller arc. De­spite these changes, the Lloyd remained a docile machine, stable in rough weather and possessing excellent gliding characteristics.

As the Allies introduced better fighter planes, the leisurely, underpowered Lloyds began suffering disproportionate losses. The company countered with the Model C IV, which adopted a two-bay sys­tem of wing supports to save weight. The final ver­sion, the C V, was more drastically revised with a shorter wingspan and a 220-horsepower Benz en­gine. It was faster than previous marks but also in­herently less stable and therefore less popular. By war’s end, the remaining Lloyd aircraft still in ser­vice were retained for training purposes only. Nearly 500 of all versions had been acquired.


. LeO 451

Type: Reconnaissance; Light Bomber

Dimensions: wingspan, 44 feet, 1 inch; length, 29 feet, 3 inches; height, 10 feet, 8 inches

Weights: empty, 2,075 pounds; gross, 3,069 pounds

Power plant: 1 x 160-horsepower Daimler liquid-cooled engine

Performance: maximum speed, 85 miles per hour; ceiling, 11,483 feet; range, 250 miles Armament: 1 x 7.92mm machine gun; 485 pounds of bombs Service dates: 1914-1917


he underpowered Lohner series was marginally obsolete throughout its service life. Nonethe­less, these planes handled well in mountainous ter­rain and gave a good account of themselves.

In 1913 the firm Jakob Lohner Werke in Vienna constructed its first military land planes for the Aus­trian air service. The B I was a two-seat reconnais­sance design built of wood, covered in fabric, and seated two crew members in a common cockpit. Its narrow fuselage, highly pointed cowling, and two – bay, swept-back wings gave it an exceptionally sleek appearance. As World War I progressed, the BII ver­sion was introduced in 1915 with minor refinements, followed by the B III a year later. This was the first Lohner to be armed, although it boasted but a single Schwarzlose machine gun for defense. A maximum of 485 pounds of bombs could also be carried aloft, which for the day was considered impressive.

In service the Lohners tended to be plodding, but they were rugged with excellent STOL (short takeoff and landing) characteristics. This made
them ideal for operating in mountain valleys along the Italian front, and they gradually replaced the aging Lloyd C Is and C IIs that preceded them. Lohn – ers frequently conducted air raids deep behind Ital­ian lines, both singly and in formation, which could last five or six hours in duration. On February 14, 1916, the Austrians launched their most ambitious attack when 12 of the new 160-horsepower Daimler – powered Lohner B VII’s successfully struck Milan’s Porta Volta electrogeneration plant. This was ac­complished by traversing 236 miles of dangerous mountain terrain and occasioned the loss of only two aircraft through mechanical failure. The Allies responded to such raids by deploying better air de­fenses, and the leisurely Lohners were eventually phased out by faster, more modern Hansa-Branden – burg C Is.

Lohner tried updating his basic design with the C I model, which featured reduced wing sweep and less bracing, but to no avail. By 1917 all surviving Lohners were consigned to training functions.

. LeO 451

Type: Reconnaissance


Dimensions: wingspan, 42 feet, 7 inches; length, 24 feet, 5 inches; height, 9 feet, 2 inches

Weights: empty, 2,046 pounds; gross, 3,058 pounds

Power plant: 1 x 200-horsepower Benz BZ IV liquid-cooled in-line engine

Performance: maximum speed, 106 miles per hour; ceiling, 19, 680 feet; range, 350 miles

Armament: 2 x 7.92mm machine guns

Service dates: 1917-1918


ate model LVG C aircraft were the most numer­ous of their class and among the largest. They shared many design features of the contemporary DFW C V, having originated with the same engineer.

The firm Luft-Verkehrs Gesellschaft had pro­duced numerous C-series aircraft for the German military since 1915, mostly designed by the Swiss engineer Franz Schneider. These were functional, solidly constructed craft and well-adapted for ar­tillery-spotting and reconnaissance. In November 1916 an LVG C II became the first aircraft ever to drop bombs on London. As the war continued, it be­came apparent that more modern machines were necessary to keep apace of the latest Allied fighters. In 1917 it fell upon a new engineer, Sabersky-Mus – sigbrod, formerly of DFW, to initiate a new series of C-type airplanes.

In the autumn of 1917, LVG unveiled its new C V model, which boasted considerable improve­ments over earlier versions. It was a large airplane,
spanning 42 feet, but also neatly designed and com­pact for its size. In this respect, it also bore marked resemblance to the DFW C V, an earlier product of Sabersky-Mussigbrod. The new C V maintained the company’s reputation for fine-looking, rugged air­planes, and it served with distinction along the West­ern Front. However, in service the exposed engine, radiator, and numerous struts seriously impeded the pilot’s forward view.

To correct deficiencies associated with the C V, LVG developed a new model, the C VI, in 1918. At first glance the two machines appeared similar, but the C VI placed greater emphasis on practicality than aes­thetics. The fancy spinner was eliminated in favor of a plain propeller hub, the wings acquired a slight posi­tive stagger to afford the pilot a better view, and the entire craft was lightened to improve performance. The C VI was completely successful in the field, and more than 1,100 were constructed. They served along­side the C V versions up through the end of the war.

. LeO 451

Type: Fighter


Dimensions: wingspan, 39 feet; length, 26 feet, 6 inches; height, 9 feet, 4 inches Weights: empty, 1,587 pounds; gross, 2,183 pounds

Power plant: 1 x 160-horsepower Isotta-Fraschini water-cooled in-line engine Performance: maximum speed, 117 miles per hour; ceiling, 20,340 feet; range, 300 miles Armament: 2 x 7.7mm machine guns Service dates: 1918-1923


he elegant Macchi M 5 was Italy’s most numer­ous flying-boat fighter of World War I. Developed from a captured Austrian machine, they rendered excellent service in a variety of capacities.

Prior to World War I, the Societa Anonima Nieuport-Macchi firm of Varese was preoccupied with manufacturing fine coaches. It obtained li­censes to build various Nieuport aircraft in 1912, an activity that expanded during the war years. The firm’s expertise was limited to land planes until May 1915, when Italian forces captured an Austrian Lohner LI flying-boat fighter intact. The government authorized Macchi to build copies of the craft for its own use as the L 1. In 1916 a more refined version, the M 3, was introduced, featuring more powerful engines and aerodynamic streamlining. Macchi con­structed 200 of these fine aircraft.

By 1917 the Austrians were employing Hansa – Brandenburg KDW flying-boat fighters with better performance than the M 3s, so Macchi undertook improving their design. The prototype M 5 was con­
structed in the spring of 1918. Like its forebear, it was a handsome airplane with obvious Nieuport in­fluence. The two wings were of uneven length, with the top being longer in both length and chord, and both were secured in place by two sets of the fa­mous Nieuport-type vee struts. A powerful Isotta – Fraschini motor was affixed to the bottom of the top wing, under which sat the pilot. From there he oper­ated a pair of machine guns buried in the airplane’s nose.

The Macchi M 5 was attractive, and it flew as good as it looked. The craft possessed high speed comparable to most land-based fighters and was fully acrobatic with a good rate of climb. M 5s were deployed throughout the spring of 1918 and saw ac­tive service against Austrian naval forces through­out the Adriatic. It was also flown by a small number of U. S. Navy pilots sent to Italy as observers. By 1918 the Macchi floatplane fighters vied with their bigger Caproni cousins as the most famous Italian aircraft of World War I.

. LeO 451

Type: Fighter

Dimensions: wingspan. 34 feet, 8 inches; length, 26 feet, 10 inches; height, 11 feet, 6 inches

Weights: empty, 4,451 pounds; gross, 5,710 pounds

Power plant: 1 x 870-horsepower Fiat A.74 RC.38 radial engine

Performance: maximum speed, 312 miles per hour; ceiling, 29,200 feet; range, 540 miles Armament: 2 x 12.7mm machine guns Service dates: 1939-1945


elightful to fly, the Saetta (Lightning Bolt) was the most numerous Italian fighter of World War II. It suffered from the usual Italian attributes of being underpowered and underarmed yet gave a good account of itself.

The biggest handicap facing the Italian aviation industry in the 1930s was the lack of high-powered in­line engines. Thus, when the transition was made to all-metal monoplane fighters in 1935, these craft were inevitably equipped with bulky, high-drag radials. In 1936 Dr. Mario Castoldi, famed designer of the Mac­chi Schneider Cup racing planes, conceived what was then an excellent design around the 840-horsepower Fiat A.74 engine. It was an all-metal, low-wing ma­chine with a fully enclosed cockpit, stressed skin, and two heavy machine guns for armament. A unique fea­ture was the wings’ trailing edge, which was com­pletely hinged and interconnected with the ailerons. Test flights demonstrated that the new MC 202 pos­sessed viceless characteristics, being highly maneu­verable and responsive to controls. As good as it was, the Saetta was still slower and possessed less fire­
power than contemporary British Hurricanes and Spitfires as well as German Bf 109s. Nonetheless, Ital­ian dictator Benito Mussolini wanted modern-looking aircraft to replace the popular biplanes fighters still in use, so in 1938 the MC 200 entered production. After the first models were viewed suspiciously by conser­vative-minded Italian fighter pilots, an open cockpit was reinstalled.

When Italy entered World War II in June 1940, only 156 Saettas were on hand. They witnessed their baptism of fire over Malta, suffering considerably at the hands of modern British fighters. Italian losses overall proved so disturbing that Germany’s X Fliegerkorps (air division) was moved down in sup­port. The MC 200s were subsequently encountered in greater numbers throughout North Africa. Italians pilots did commendable work despite great odds but were finally outclassed as better opposition materi­alized. Curiously, several Saettas operated against the Red Air Force in Russia until 1943, claiming 88 kills at a loss of only 15. Only a handful survived at war’s end. A total of 1,153 were built.

. LeO 451

Type: Fighter

Dimensions: wingspan, 34 feet, 8 inches; length, 29 feet; height, 9 feet, 11 inches Weights: empty, 5,545 pounds; gross, 6,766 pounds

Power plant: 1 x 1,175-horsepower Daimler-Benz DB 601A liquid-cooled in-line engine Performance: maximum speed, 372 miles per hour; ceiling, 37,730 feet; range, 475 miles Armament: 2 x 7.7mm machine guns; 2 x 12.7mm machine guns Service dates: 1941-1945


he sleek Folgore (Thunderbolt) was Italy’s best all-around fighter of World War II. Fast and ma­neuverable, it arrived in too few numbers to alter the balance of power.

One of few advantages of an Italian alliance with Nazi Germany was access to advanced aviation engine technology. Once the superb Daimler-Benz DB 601A in-line engine was imported by Macchi, Dr. Mario Castoldi was convinced that the potential of his MC 200 design could finally be realized. He then melded the German engine to existing airframes to create the MC 202 Folgore, one of the best Italian fighters of World War II. The new fighter employed the basic outline of the earlier craft and almost the exact tooling, so production was greatly facilitated. In 1940 test flights revealed that the streamlined Fol­gore enjoyed a 60-mile-per-hour advantage over the earlier Saetta, with commensurate improvements in climb rate. Neither were any of the sweet flying characteristics adversely affected. It even enjoyed the advantage of an additional pair of wing-mounted
machine guns. The MC 202 was deployed in strength throughout 1941, and it demonstrated superiority to both the Hawker Hurricane and the Curtiss P-40 Tomahawk in the Western Desert. Had the craft been deployed in numbers a year earlier, Axis con­trol of the air might have been established. Nonethe­less, the Folgore distinguished itself along a number of fronts, including Russia, where it completely mas­tered the numerous MiGs and LaGGs opposing it. A total of 1,200 were built.

In 1943 Macchi unveiled its last and best fighter of the war, the MC 205 Veltro (Greyhound). This came about by marrying the MC 202 airframe to an even more powerful DB 605A engine. The result­ing fighter easily matched North American P-51 Mustangs and late-model Spitfires. It was also more heavily armed than its ancestor, sporting a pair of 20mm cannons. After the 1943 Italian surrender, the Germans seized several examples and outfitted a Luftwaffe Gruppe that flew continuously until war’s end. Only 289 Veltros were manufactured.

. LeO 451

Type: Light Bomber

Dimensions: wingspan, 38 feet; length, 27 feet; height, 9 feet, 8 inches Weights: empty, 1,793 pounds; gross, 2,458 pounds

Power plant: 1 x 160-horsepower Beardmore liquid-cooled in-line engine Performance: maximum speed, 104 miles per hour; ceiling, 16,000 feet; range, 400 miles Armament: 2 x.303-inch machine guns; 260 pounds of bombs Service dates: 1916-1917


he aptly named Elephant was too large to serve as an effective escort fighter. Instead, it func­tioned better as a hard-hitting low-level bomber.

In the summer of 1915, Martinsyde engineer A. A. Fletcher conceived plans for a new and very modern escort fighter. The design was large by ne­cessity, as it was required to hold sufficient fuel to complete missions lasting up to four hours. The re­sulting prototype then flew as a two-bay biplane fighter with staggered, broad-chord wings. It was of conventional wood-and-fabric construction, and the fuselage was fitted with a close-fitting metal cowl­ing. A single Lewis machine gun sat on the top wing above the pilot, owing to the lack of interrupter gear, while a second gun was strangely situated be­hind him, firing backward, to ward off attacks from that quarter. Test results were encouraging, so the craft entered production as the Martinsyde G 100. In view of its large size for a fighter, pilots quickly dubbed it the Elephant.

The first G 100s reached France in the spring of 1916, and they were initially deployed in penny packets of two or three aircraft per reconnaissance squadron. The big plane flew well and possessed good range, but its sheer size precluded the agility necessary to combat nimble German fighters. How­ever, in view of its excellent range and lift, Ele­phants quickly found work as light bombers with No. 27 Squadron, the only unit so equipped. In ser­vice the G 100s were strong and could handle great amounts of damage. Their payload was also consid­erable, and No. 27 Squadron conducted numerous effective raids on German positions. Several Ele­phants were also deployed to Palestine and Mesopo­tamia for bombing and strafing duties against the Turks. Production of G 100s reached 100, and they were followed by 171 slightly more powerful G 102s. The big craft were retired from service in mid-1917, although several carried on as trainers. Their mem­ory is perpetuated by today’s No. 27 Squadron, whose unit heraldry displays an elephant.

. LeO 451

Type: Reconnaissance; Antitank Helicopter


Dimensions: rotorspan, 32 feet, 4 inches; length, 38 feet, 11 inches; height, 9 feet, 10 inches

Weights: empty, 2,820 pounds; gross, 5,290 pounds

Power plant: 2 x 429-horsepower Allison 250-C20B turboshaft engines

Performance: maximum speed, 150 miles per hour; ceiling, 17,000 feet; range, 388 miles

Armament: none, or 6 x HOT antitank missiles

Service dates: 1976-


he rotund BO 105 is Germany’s first postwar helicopter and helped pioneer new rigid-rotor technology. It is renowned for high performance and agility at low altitude, especially as an antitank platform.

Design of the BO 105 was initiated in 1962 by Messerschmitt-Bolkow-Blohm (MBB) in response to a German government specification for new heli­copters to replace the Alouette IIs in service. These would be the first such machines to originate in Germany since World War II. The prototype emerged in 1967 as a standard-looking pod-and – boom affair, but the BO 105 was designed from the onset to employ the radically different rigid-rotor technology. In most helicopters, the rotors are rela­tively loose so blade angle can be pitched down­ward during forward flight. This system allows for rapid climbing but is unable to sustain much in the way of negative-G forces—that is, rapid sinking. The new rigid rotor, as the name implies, was hinge­less and kept the blades at right angles to the main rotor at all times. It was a very strong arrangement
and capable of resisting high negative-G forces. A helicopter thus equipped could rise quickly over ob­stacles in the conventional sense—and then sink past them with equal rapidity. Moreover, the BO 105 was fully acrobatic and maneuverable. Its military potential was immense, and the German army en­thusiastically ordered 312 machines for the Herres – flieger (army aviation).

In service the BO 105 received two designa­tions. The first, VBH, is a dedicated reconnais – sance/liaison craft for close work with field units. The PAH 1, meanwhile, is especially rigged as an an­titank platform. It mounts up to six HOT wire – guided antitank missiles and carries a variety of sighting and imaging technology. Both versions are also equipped for nighttime operations and, by dint of their great maneuverability, can easily utilize ter­rain for cover at low altitude. A total of 1,200 BO 105s have been built and exported to 18 coun­tries worldwide. With constant upgrades, they will remain potent weapons well into the twenty-first century.

. LeO 451

Type: Fighter


Dimensions: wingspan, 32 feet, 6 inches; length, 29 feet; height, 8 feet, 2 inches Weights: empty, 5,893 pounds; gross, 7,491 pounds

Power plant: 1 x 1,475-horsepower Daimler-Benz BD 605 liquid-cooled in-line engine Performance: maximum speed, 386 miles per hour; ceiling, 37,890 feet; range, 350 miles Armament: 1 x 20mm cannon; 2 x 13mm machine guns Service dates: 1937-1945


he Bf 109 was one of history’s greatest combat aircraft and the most widely produced German fighter of World War II. Small and angular, its very lines seemed to exude menace.

Willy Messerschmitt began developing his benchmark fighter in 1933 once the Luftwaffe desired to substitute its Arado Ar 68 and Heinkel He 51 bi­planes. The prototype flew in 1935 as a rather angular, low-wing monoplane with a fully enclosed cockpit and narrow-track landing gear. Results were impres­sive, and in 1937 the new Bf 109B fighter outpaced all other rivals at the International Flying Meet in Zurich, Switzerland. By 1939 the first production model, the Bf 109E, was introduced, featuring a bigger engine and heavier armament. As a fighter, the diminutive craft flew fast and maneuvered well, features that helped secure German air superiority at the start of World War II. Simply put, Bf 109s annihilated all their outdated opposition until encountering Supermarine Spitfires during the 1940 Battle of Britain. Although speedier than its British opponent, Bf 109Es turned somewhat slower and never achieved superiority.

As the war ground on, successive new models were introduced to keep the five-year-old design solvent. The F model was aerodynamically refined, with rounder wings and tail surfaces, as well as a bigger engine. It was the best-handling variant, but in 1942 the most numerous version, the Bf 109G, made its appearance. It featured a stronger engine and heavier armament but sacrificed the sweet han­dling characteristics of earlier versions. Worse yet, German war planners failed to provide for new de­signs, so the Bf 109G remained in production long after its growth potential ceased. Late-model H and K versions tried interjecting better high-altitude performance into the old workhorse with some suc­cess, but they never became available in quantity. Nonetheless, leading German ace Eric Hartmann scored all 451 victories in his beloved Messer – schmitt. By war’s end, no less than 33,000 Bf 109s had been produced. Moreover, Spain continued constructing them up until 1956, and they also served in the postwar air forces of Israel and Czechoslovakia.

. LeO 451

Type: Fighter; Night Fighter; Light Bomber

Dimensions: wingspan, 53 feet, 3 inches; length, 39 feet, 7 inches; height, 13 feet, 6 inches Weights: empty, 12,346 pounds; gross, 15,873 pounds

Power plant: 2 x 1,110-horsepower Daimler-Benz liquid-cooled, in-line engines Performance: maximum speed, 352 miles per hour; ceiling, 35,760 feet; range, 745 miles Armament: 5 x 7.92mm machine guns; 2 x 20mm cannons; up to 2,205 pounds of bombs Service dates: 1939-1945


he fearsome-looking Bf 110 was actually rather defenseless in the face of determined fighter op­position. However, it found its niche as a nocturnal predator and accounted for 60 percent of Germany’s night-fighter defenses.

The notion of long-range strategic fighters arose simultaneously in several countries during the 1930s. In Germany, as elsewhere, they were envisioned as escorts for heavy bomber forces then under develop­ment. In 1936 Willy Messerschmitt fielded his second warplane design, the twin-engine Bf 110, for the task. It was an advanced, all-metal design with twin rud­ders and a long greenhouse canopy. Test flights showed that the airplane was extremely fast, but it handled sluggishly. Moreover, the death of General Walter Wever in 1936 led to the cancellation of Ger­many’s heavy bomber program, hence the new craft was without a mission. The Bf 110 was nonetheless ordered into production as a heavy fighter and de­ployed in strength just prior to World War II. The Luft­waffe held high expectations for it.

In the early days of the war, the Bf 110s easily swept aside obsolete Polish and French machines, fully living up to its role as a Zerstorer (De­stroyer). Thus, in the summer of 1940 they were confidently thrown into the Battle of Britain, but they took staggering losses at the hands of nimble Spitfires and Hurricanes. The Bf 110s were so outclassed that they required escorts of single-en­gine Bf 109 fighters! Thereafter, Bf 110s were de­ployed in secondary theaters as ground-attack craft. Production of the aging craft began to wane when, in 1943, the failure of the Me 210 caused production to be accelerated. This time the Bf 110 was outfitted as a night fighter and equipped with heavy cannons and radar systems. Fast and stable, it made an ideal platform for nocturnal warfare and destroyed several hundred British bombers. In sum, the Bf 110 exhibited many fine qualities, but it was simply not on par with modern single­engine fighters. By war’s end, more than 6,000 ma­chines had been constructed.

. LeO 451

Type: Fighter


Dimensions: wingspan, 30 feet, 7 inches; length, 19 feet, 2 inches; height, 9 feet, 1 inch

Weights: empty, 4,206 pounds; gross, 9,502 pounds

Power plant: 1 x 3,750-pound thrust Walter liquid-fuel rocket motor

Performance: maximum speed, 593 miles per hour; ceiling, 39,500 feet; range, 50 miles

Armament: 2 x 30mm cannon

Service dates: 1944-1945


he revolutionary Komet was the world’s first rocket-propelled fighter and the fastest aircraft of World War II. Fast and lethal-looking, it often posed greater hazards to its own pilots than the enemy.

The Me 163 had its origins in the work of Dr. Alexander Lippisch, the world’s leading exponent of tailless gliders. He joined the Messerschmitt com­pany in 1939 and, despite personal antipathy for Willy Messerschmitt, set about developing a rocket – powered glider. The prototype emerged in 1941 as a rather small, but very futuristic, swept-wing design. Built of metal and wood, the new craft dispensed with landing gear to save weight. Accordingly, it lifted off on a jettisonable dolly and landed on a re­tractable skid. But when rocket motors finally be­came available, even greater technical problems arose. The Komet was powered by a combination of two highly combustible fuels, C-Stoff (hydrazine hy­drate and methyl alcohol) and T-Stoff (hydrogen peroxide and water). The two ignited when com­bined, providing tremendous thrust for about eight minutes. However, the practice of fueling the Me 163
was unpredictable, and the slightest misstep led to catastrophic explosions. Test flights were nonethe­less successful, reaching unprecedented speeds of nearly 600 miles per hour. In 1944 the Me 163 en­tered production as a last-ditch weapon against the seemingly unstoppable Allied bomber streams. Around 350 were built.

In service the aptly named Komet (from the large flame it exuded) had a short but spectacular career. It skyrocketed to altitudes of 30,000 feet in only two minutes and traversed bomber formations so fast that gunners could scarcely draw a bead. However, closing speeds were tremendous and al­lowed for few bursts. Consequently, in nine months of combat, only 15 or so bombers were claimed by Komets. Moreover, many Me 163s were lost, mostly upon landing, when residual fuel left in the tanks ex­ploded without warning. For all its shortcomings, the Me 163 possessed excellent performance for its day and reflects considerable German ingenuity. Had time existed for additional research, the Komet might have evolved into a formidable weapon.

. LeO 451

Type: Fighter; Light Bomber


Dimensions: wingspan, 40 feet, 11 inches; length, 34 feet, 9 inches; height, 12 feet, 7 inches

Weights: empty, 8,378 pounds; gross, 14,110 pounds

Power plant: 2 x 1,984-pound thrust Junkers Jumo 004B turbojet engines

Performance: maximum speed, 540 miles per hour; ceiling, 37,565 feet; range, 652 miles

Armament: 4 x 30mm cannon

Service dates: 1944-1945


ith its unmistakable sharklike lines, the Me 262 was the world’s first operational jet fighter. It might have reestablished German aerial supremacy had sufficient jet engines been available.

In 1938 the German Air Ministry approached Willy Messerschmitt to create a radically different fighter craft, one powered by new turbojet engines then under development. The first prototype emerged in April 1941 but had to be flown with a conventional nose-mounted engine. The Me 262 was a low-wing, all-metal monoplane of stressed-skin construction. The wings were swept, and the first prototypes landed on tailwheels, but subsequent versions employed tricycle landing gear. However, the Luftwaffe displayed little interest initially, and the project received few construction priorities. It was not until July 1942 that the first jet-powered flight could be held, but the new craft was a marvel to behold. It was at least 100 miles per hour faster than the best Allied piston-powered fighters, and it handled extremely well. At this time the Third Reich
was being battered by enormous fleets of Allied heavy bombers, so it became imperative to deploy the Me 262 as an air-superiority weapon. However, when Adolf Hitler witnessed a test flight, he ordered that the craft be outfitted as a high-speed bomber! This did little to facilitate production, and efforts were further beset by a lack of engines.

The first Me 262s deployed in August 1944, less than a year before the war in Europe ended. There were ongoing problems with engine reliability and fuel shortages, but the vaunted Schwalbe (Swallow), as it was dubbed, created havoc with Allied bombers. On March 18, 1945, a force of 37 Me 262s attacked U. S. B-17s near Berlin, scything down 15 with a loss of two jets. The bomber version, known as the Sturmvogel (Storm Petrel), had also debuted, but it was tactically misused. Although 1,430 Me 262s were built, only a handful actually saw com­bat. They claimed 150 Allied aircraft—and may have shot down many more—save for Hitler’s meddling and the Luftwaffe’s initial indifference.

. LeO 451

Type: Glider; Transport

Dimensions: wingspan, 180 feet, 5 inches; length, 93 feet, 6 inches; height, 31 feet, 6 inches

Weights: empty, 64,066 pounds; gross, 99,210 pounds

Power plant: 6 x 1,140-horsepower Gnome-Rhone 14N radial engines

Performance: maximum speed, 149 miles per hour; ceiling, 14,760 feet; range, 808 miles

Armament: 2 x 20mm cannons; 2 x 13mm machine guns

Service dates: 1942-1945


he lumbering Gigants were among the biggest aircraft used in World War II. They carried useful payloads but were highly vulnerable when con­fronted by Allied fighters.

The Me 321 evolved in October 1940 when the German invasion of Great Britain seemed imminent. The German Air Ministry requested development of giant glider craft to ferry troops and equipment across the English Channel by air. Willy Messer – schmitt, who had designed gliders since childhood, readily complied, and within two weeks he con­ceived the Me 321 Gigant (Giant). This was a high – wing, braced monoplane featuring mixed construc­tion. Both wing and fuselage were made from steel tubing, strengthened by wood, and then covered in fabric. The Gigant was also the first airplane to pos­sess clamshell nose doors for ease of loading. Up to 22 tons of men and supplies could be hauled aloft and safely landed, making it the biggest transport of World War II. The prototype debuted in the spring of 1941 and, although somewhat fatiguing for a single
pilot to handle, flew well. Getting airborne was tricky, however, and usually meant being towed by three Bf 110s, or a single He 111Z (two bombers lashed together at midwing). The Me 321 entered production that year, and 211 were built. Most served along the Eastern Front ferrying supplies.

At length it was decided that a powered model, the Me 323, would be safer and offer more strategic flexibility. Accordingly, an Me 321 was fit­ted with six French Gnome-Rhone radial engines and fuel tanks. The added weight almost reduced the payload by half, and the giant craft still needed to be towed or employ rockets to assist takeoff. Nonetheless, the Me 323 entered production in 1943 and saw widespread service in Russia, North Africa, and the Mediterranean. The slow-moving transports proved easy prey for Allied fighters, and on one oc­casion British Spitfires annihilated 14 of 16 Gigants at sea. Given the hazards of interception, the lum­bering behemoths were restricted to rear-area sup­ply missions.

. LeO 451

Type: Fighter; Light Bomber

Dimensions: wingspan, 53 feet, 7 inches; length, 40 feet, 11 inches; height, 14 feet Weights: empty, 16,574 pounds; gross, 21,276 pounds

Power plant: 2 x 1,850-horsepower Daimler-Benz 603A liquid-cooled in-line engines Performance: maximum speed, 364 miles per hour; ceiling, 32,180 feet; range, 1,050 miles Armament: 2 x 7.92mm machine guns; 4 x 20mm cannons; up to 2,205 pounds of bombs Service dates: 1943-1945


he formidable-looking Me 410 was an outgrowth of the earlier Me 210, an embarrassing failure. It was fast and capable but never fulfilled design ex­pectations.

In 1937 the German Air Ministry began looking for a successor to the Bf 110 Zerstorer (Destroyer), the Luftwaffe’s only strategic fighter. Willy Messer – schmitt originated his second warplane design, the Me 210, which was heavily based upon the initial ma­chine. Like its precursor, the new craft had twin en­gines and twin rudders, but it also sported tapered wings and lengthened engine nacelles. The effect was a handsome machine that proved very unstable in flight and prone to stalls and spins. Subsequent modifications introduced a single rudder, but Mar­shal Hermann Goring, the Luftwaffe chief, ordered

1,0 machines produced before the design was per­fected. Consequently, when the Me 210 became oper­ational in 1941, it still possessed all the old vices of the prototype. Several crashed due to bad handling, and the government canceled its contract after 300
machines. Several officials also demanded Messer – schmitt’s resignation from the company bureau.

In an attempt to save both the Me 210 and his own reputation, Messerschmitt tried revamping the balky craft. The resulting Me 410 appeared almost in­distinguishable from its predecessor, but it had a lengthened fuselage and nacelles, along with auto­matic wing slots on the leading edges. Larger engines were also fitted, and the Me 410, when it appeared in 1943, was a significant improvement. Through most of 1944, the Hornisse (Hornet) was employed as a night bomber over England, where its high speed made interception difficult. It was also utilized to de­fend the Reich, where its heavy armament caused havoc with bomber formations. However, like all two – engine fighters, the Me 410 was at a severe disadvan­tage when opposing single-engine craft and suffered heavy losses. By the time production ceased in the fall of 1944, no less than 1,160 had been produced. Their contribution to the war effort proved negligible and constituted a waste of valuable resources.

. LeO 451

Type: Fighter

Dimensions: wingspan, 33 feet, 9 inches; length, 26 feet, 9 inches; height, 8 feet, 9 inches

Weights: empty, 5,996 pounds; gross, 7,694 pounds

Power plant: 1 x 1,350-horsepower Mikulin liquid-cooled in-line engine

Performance: maximum speed, 398 miles per hour, ceiling, 39,370 feet; range, 777 miles

Armament: 2 x 7.62mm machine guns; 1 x 12.7mm machine gun; up to 440 pounds of bombs

Service dates: 1941-1943


he MiG 3 was an impressive high-altitude inter­ceptor when it appeared in 1941 and won its de­signers the coveted Stalin Prize. However, it proved woefully inadequate at lower levels and could not compete with better German fighters.

In 1939 Artem Mikoyan and Mikhail Gurevich, veterans of the Polikarpov design bureau, proposed a high-altitude interceptor, the MiG 1. This was a highly streamlined, modern-looking craft with a long cowling, retractable landing gear, and an open cock­pit. Constructed from steel tubing and covered with wood, the prototype flew in April 1940 with impres­sive speed and performance at high altitude. How­ever, the extreme length of the nose—designed to accommodate the biggest possible engine around the smallest possible fuselage—rendered it inher­ently unstable. In fact, the MiG 1 displayed down­right vicious handling characteristics, but the Soviet government needed fighters quickly, and so the de­sign entered production. In 1941 the MiG bureau attempted to rectify earlier shortcomings with a new machine, the MiG 3. This was essentially a cleaned-
up version of the earlier craft, with a fully enclosed canopy, a cut-down rear deck for better vision, and increased dihedral on the outer wing sections. The new design performed only marginally better, but the government awarded Mikoyan and Gurevich the prestigious Stalin Prize.

The onset of the German invasion of June 1941 only underscored the inadequacy of the MiG 3 as a fighter. Unstable and unforgiving, it was tiring to fly and could not engage nimble Messerschmitt Bf 109s at low altitudes, where the majority of battles were fought. It was also unsatisfactory as an interceptor, being too lightly armed with machine guns to inflict much harm upon bombers. Nonetheless, the Sovi­ets, hard-pressed for aircraft of any kind, dutifully employed the MiG 3 in frontline service for nearly three years. Russian pilots accepted the assignment stoically—and suffered commensurately. By 1943 most MiG 3s had been withdrawn from combat func­tions and were restricted to high-speed reconnais­sance missions. Total production exceeded 4,000 units.

. LeO 451

Type: Fighter

Dimensions: wingspan, 33 feet, 1 inch; length, 35 feet, 7 inches; height, 11 feet, 2 inches

Weights: empty, 7,500 pounds; gross, 12,750 pounds

Power plant: 1 x 5,950-pound thrust Klimov VK-1 turbojet engine

Performance: maximum speed, 668 miles per hour; ceiling, 51,000 feet; range, 665 miles

Armament: 2 x 23mm cannons and 1 x 37mm cannon; up to 1,100 pounds of bombs

Service dates: 1950-


his classic design was the most successful of early Soviet jet fighters and a complete shock to the West. Its debut during the Korean War put the world on notice that Russian aircraft were among the best in the world.

At the end of World War II, the Soviets inher­ited a trove of advanced German technology, espe­cially concerning jet aviation. Stalin, fearful of trail­ing the West in its use, demanded the creation of new jet-powered aircraft for the Red Air Force. In 1946 engineers Artem Mikoyan and Mikhail Gurevich con­ceived what was then a highly advanced fighter de­sign. It was a midsize, fairly compact machine with swept midmounted wings and high tail surfaces. The MiG 15 also carried a bomber-killing three-cannon pack that lowered down on wires for ease of servic­ing. Up until then, Soviet attempts with jet aircraft largely failed on account of using weak German Jumo engines of insufficient thrust. However, Great Britain’s shortsighted Labor government had fate­fully arranged the export of several Rolls-Royce

Nene jet engines, then the world’s best. This proved a technological windfall of the first order, and the en­gine was quickly copied by Soviet engines as the VK – 1. Once installed in the MiG 15 prototype, the result was a world-class jet fighter that was faster and could outclimb and outturn almost any jet employed by the West. The MiG 15 entered mass production in 1949 and received the NATO designation FAGOT.

MiG 15s were an unwelcome surprise to UN forces when these fearsome new machines suddenly appeared over North Korea in November 1950. Only rapid deployment of equally advanced North Ameri­can F-86 Sabres kept control of the skies from com­munist hands. These two adversaries were almost evenly matched, and in 1953 a defecting North Ko­rean pilot, Ro Kim Suk, gave the West its first intact example. MiG 15s continued in production through­out the 1950s until an estimated 18,000 were made. They were employed by all Soviet allies and client states, with many two-seat trainer versions still in use.

. LeO 451

Type: Fighter; Light Bomber

Dimensions: wingspan, 23 feet, 6 inches; length, 51 feet, 9 inches; height, 13 feet, 6 inches

Weights: empty, 12,051 pounds; gross, 21,605 pounds

Power plant: 1 x 15,653-pound thrust Tumansky R-25-300 turbojet engine

Performance: maximum speed, 1,385 miles per hour; ceiling, 62,336 feet; range, 600 miles

Armament: 1 x 23mm cannon; up to 4,409 pounds of bombs or rockets

Service dates: 1959-


he classic MiG 21 is the most extensively ex­ported jet fighter in history. It has fought in sev­eral wars and continues in frontline service four decades after its appearance.

The experience of air combat in Korea forced the Mikoyan design bureau to draw up radical plans for a new air-superiority fighter. This machine would have to be lightweight, be relatively simple to build, and possess speed in excess of Mach 2. The prime design prerequisite entailed deletion of all unneces­sary equipment not related to performance. No less than 30 test models were built and flown through the mid – to late 1950s before a tailed-delta configura­tion was settled upon. The first MiG 21s were de­ployed in 1959 and proved immediately popular with Red Air Force pilots. They were the first Russian air­craft to routinely operate at Mach 2 and were highly maneuverable. Moreover, the delta configuration en­abled the craft to remain controllable up to high an­gles of attack and low air speed. One possible draw­
back, as with all deltas, was that high turn rates yielded a steep drag rise, so the MiG 21 lost energy and speed while maneuvering. This was considered a fair trade-off in terms of overall excellent perform­ance. More than 11,000 MiG 21s were built in 14 dis­tinct versions that spanned three generations of de­sign. They are the most numerous fighters exported abroad, and no less than 50 air forces employ them worldwide. The NATO code name is FISHBED.

The MiG 21 debuted during the Vietnam War (1964-1974), during which they proved formidable opponents for bigger U. S. fighters like the McDon – nell-Douglas F-4 Phantom. Successive modifications have since endowed them with greater range and formidable ground-attack capability, but at the ex­pense of their previously spry performance. Russian production of the MiG 21 has ended, yet China and India build, refurbish, and deploy them in great numbers. These formidable machines will undoubt­edly remain in service for many years to come.

. LeO 451

Type: Fighter; Ground Attack

Dimensions: wingspan, up to 45 feet, 8 inches; length, 54 feet, 9 inches; height, 15 feet, 9 inches Weights: empty, 22,487 pounds; gross, 39,242 pounds Power plant: 1 x 18,849-pound thrust Soyuz turbojet engine

Performance: maximum speed, 1,553 miles per hour; ceiling, 60,695 feet; range, 715 miles Armament: 1 x 23mm Gatling gun; up to 8,818 pounds of bombs or rockets Service dates: 1970-


he MiG 23 was the first Soviet combat plane equipped with variable-wing geometry. Its suc­cess led to an equally capable ground-attack ver­sion, the MiG 27.

By the mid-1960s the Red Air Force wanted to supplement its vaunted MiG 21s with air-superiority fighters that could also perform ground-attack work. The new machine would have to approximate the formidable performance of such Western stalwarts as the F-4 Phantom and F-105 Thunderchief. Fur­thermore, excellent STOL (short takeoff and land­ing) ability from unfinished fields was also required. The Mikoyan design bureau initially toyed with re­vised delta configurations before settling upon a “swing-wing” version like the General Dynamics F-

111. The new MiG 23 prototype first flew in 1967 as a high-wing jet with an extremely sharp profile. The wing could be deployed at three different angles for takeoff, cruise, and fighting mode and, when fully extended, would assist in achieving shorter landing distances. To ensure high performance at high
speed, the craft also carried adjustable “splitters” at the front of each air intake. The first MiG 23s had no sooner been deployed in 1970 than it was deter­mined to optimize them for air supremacy and forego ground-attack functions for a subsequent model.

The impracticality of endowing the MiG 23 with good tactical strike abilities led to development of a related design, the MiG 27. This was essentially a stripped-down MiG 23 refitted with a distinct flat­tened nose housing a laser range finder. The craft lost its intake splitters, as excessively high speed is considered unnecessary at low altitude. The after­burner was also simplified and lightened to compen­sate for weight lost at the front end. Not surpris­ingly, Russian pilots dubbed the MiG 27 Utkonos (Duck-nose) on account of its odd appearance. More than 3,000 of both versions have been built, and collectively they are identified by the NATO des­ignation FLOGGER. Neither craft is considered a match for their Western equivalents.

. LeO 451

Type: Fighter; Reconnaissance


Dimensions: wingspan, 46 feet; length, 78 feet, 2 inches; height, 20 feet

Weights: empty, 44,092 pounds; gross, 79,807 pounds

Power plant: 2 x 27,000-pound thrust Tumansky R-31 turbojet engines

Performance: maximum speed, 1,849 miles per hour; ceiling, 80,000 feet; range, 901 miles

Armament: 9,636 pounds of missiles

Service dates: 1973-


n ingenious design, the elusive MiG 25 was once the doyen of Soviet high-altitude recon­naissance. It continues on today as a formidable cruise-missile interceptor.

Toward the end of the 1950s the United States embarked upon developing a viable Mach 3 high-al­titude bomber, the North American XB-70 Valkyrie. Such a craft would fly so high and fast that it ap­peared virtually immune to Soviet missiles and con­ventional jet aircraft. Aware of its weakness, the Red Air Force scrambled for a new, ultra-high speed in­terceptor to thwart such a menace. Mach 3 opera­tions posed daunting operational difficulties, but the Mikoyan design bureau tackled them with charac­teristic aplomb. The first MiG 25 prototype flew in 1964 with complete success. This was a large, if squat, machine of futuristic appearance. Highly streamlined, it possessed a high-mounted, swept wing, an extremely pointed profile, and twin rudders that canted outward. It was powered by two huge Tumansky engines and mounted equally imposing airducts on either side of the fuselage. Because heat
arising from air friction at Mach 3 was intense, the MiG 25 was constructed mostly of expensive stain­less steel and titanium—anything less would melt! Every design priority reflected an unyielding empha­sis on speed and high-altitude performance, but out­side of this regimen the MiG 25 maneuvered like a brick. It nonetheless became operational as a fighter and reconnaissance craft in 1973—a decade after the XB-70 program was canceled. The NATO code name is FOXBAT.

During the 1970s the MiG 25 performed consid­erable overflight activity in the Middle East and could not be intercepted by the redoubtable Israeli air force. The West got its first up-close look when MiG 25 pilot Viktor Belenko defected to Japan in Sep­tember 1976. Engineers marveled at the ingenuity of design yet crudity of construction. Since then, FOX – BATs have undergone considerable electronic and en­gine upgrades, making them even more formidable. Modern versions are equipped with the very latest look down/shoot down radar capable of detecting and destroying U. S. cruise missiles at any altitude.

. LeO 451

Type: Fighter; Light Bomber

Dimensions: wingspan, 37 feet, 3 inches; length, 56 feet, 9 inches; height, 15 feet, 6 inches Weights: empty, 24,030 pounds; gross, 40,785 pounds

Power plant: 2 x 11,111-pound thrust Klimov/Leningrad RD-33 turbofan engines Performance: maximum speed, 1,519 miles per hour; ceiling, 55,575 feet; range, 932 miles Armament: 1 x 30mm cannon; up to 6,614 pounds of bombs and rockets Service dates: 1984-


he MiG 29 is one of the most modern and capa­ble fighter planes ever designed. It confirms Rus­sia’s ability to construct weapons of lethality equal to Western counterparts.

In 1972 the Soviet government issued demand­ing specifications for a new lightweight fighter with secondary ground-attack capability to offset the aging MiG 21s, MiG 23s, and Su 17s in service. In addi­tion, such a machine would have to be capable of en­gaging and defeating the formidable Grumman F-14s and McDonnell-Douglas F-15s of the United States, as well as the forthcoming General Dynamics F-16 and McDonnell-Douglas F-18. As usual, the Mikoyan de­sign bureau undertook the assignment with determi­nation and originality. By 1977 it had arrived at a solu­tion: the modest-sized MiG 29. This was an ultrasleek and futuristic-looking machine with a beautifully blended high-lift, low-drag wing and fuselage. The twin engines were widely spaced and outwardly canted; twin rudders were also provided. One of the most unusual features was the underwing air intakes.

Like all Russian warplanes, MiG 29s are expected to operate off of rough, unprepared airstrips. To mini­mize any chance that dirt or rocks might be ingested by an engine, they are covered by panel doors that open automatically when lifting off and close again upon touchdown. While these are shut, air is fed con­tinuously to the engine through louvers near the wing roots. In terms of maneuverability, the MiG 29 is a sterling dogfighter, light on the controls and highly re­sponsive. An estimated 1,350 have been built and de­ployed by Russia and former Soviet client states. The NATO designation is FULCRUM.

As expected, the MiG 29 was a popular addition to the Red Air Force stable, placing Russian pilots on equal footing with potential Western adversaries. A look down/shoot down fire-control system, helmet – actuated sights, and accurate missiles make it possi­bly the world’s best interceptor. Its handling is even more impressive considering that all controls are hy­draulic and devoid of fly-by-wire technology. The FULCRUM remains every fighter pilot’s dream.

. LeO 451

Type: Fighter

Dimensions: wingspan, 44 feet, 2 inches; length, 74 feet, 5 inches; height, 20 feet, 2 inches

Weights: empty, 48,115 pounds; gross, 101,859 pounds

Power plant: 2 x 34,170-pound thrust Aviavidgatel D-30F6 turbofan engines

Performance: maximum speed, 1,865 miles per hour; ceiling, 67,600 feet; range, 745 miles

Armament: 1 x 30mm cannon; up to six homing missiles

Service dates: 1982-


he MiG 31 is a heavily armed long-range inter­ceptor designed to engage and destroy fast, low- flying targets. Linked by computer, four of these fearsome machines can effectively blanket 590 miles of airspace!

By the late 1980s Russia anticipated that the threat of strategic bombardment from the United States had undergone fundamental changes. Instead of subsonic, low-flying B-52s, Russia now faced the prospect of ultrasophisticated and stealthy B-1 Lancers backed my myriads of terrain-following cruise missiles. In 1975 the Mikoyan design bureau was tasked with creating a totally new machine to counter this new threat. After several studies, it elected to begin with a revamped version of the MiG 25 FOXBAT, a high-speed, high-altitude interceptor. Despite its international celebrity as an unstoppable spy plane, the FOXBAT was incapable of supersonic speed at low altitudes. Thus, the solution posed was to build a new craft: the MiG 31. It shared some common ancestry with the earlier machine but was, in fact, a much more capable interceptor. Like the

MiG 25, the MiG 31 (NATO code name, FOX­HOUND) is a big, squat airplane with twin engines and twin tails. However, it differs by seating two crew members in tandem, possessing larger air in­takes for low-altitude work, as well as extended af­terburner nozzles. Moreover, its construction has dispensed with heavy stainless steel in favor of lighter titanium and nickel steel. All told, the MiG 31 displays lower absolute top speed than the MiG 25 but enjoys much better handling and maneuverabil­ity. Its role is to assist the faster Sukhoi Su 27s by plugging gaps in Russia’s defensive radar net.

The biggest changes in the MiG 31 are elec­tronic. It boasts state-of-the-art Zaslon phased – array nose radar, which can detect targets as far out as 125 miles. In addition, the computerized fire – control system can track up to 10 targets independ­ently and engage four. The MiG 31 is also capable of linking to other aircraft via computer and their fire being coordinated by a team leader. To date a total of 280 FOXHOUNDS have been manufactured and deployed.

. LeO 451

Type: Transport; Gunship


Dimensions: rotorspan, 69 feet, 10 inches; length, 59 feet, 7 inches; height, 18 feet, 6 inches Weights: empty, 14,990 pounds; gross, 26,455 pounds Power plant: 2 x Klimov TV3-117MT turboshaft engines

Performance: maximum speed, 155 miles per hour; ceiling, 14,760 feet; range, 289 miles Armament: 2 x rocket or gunpods Service dates: 1962-


or four decades, the Mi 17 has been among the most numerous large helicopters in the world. It was the workhorse of the former Soviet Union and continues in active service with many nations.

Toward the end of the 1950s, the Mil design bu­reau attempted to update and enlarge its existing Mi 4 helicopters with a view toward greater power and lifting capacity. By 1961 it had developed the Mi 8, which retained the transmission and tailboom of the earlier craft but relocated the engine overhead and the canopy forward. The new craft was much bigger internally but somewhat underpowered, so a second engine was added. When the Mi 8 became opera­tional in 1962, it was among the world’s foremost military helicopters. It could lift up to 28 fully armed troops and carry them to their objective with good reliability. As Soviet imperialism spread through client states in the 1970s, more often than not the Mi 8s were there. Cuban and East German advisers em­ployed them to good effect in Ethiopia, Angola, and

Nigeria. However, the Mi 8s enjoyed far less success when they were outfitted as gunships and deployed in huge numbers during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Muslim guerillas, equipped with CIA – supplied Stinger missiles, took a heavy toll on the lumbering giants. The craft still operates under the NATO designation HIP.

In 1981 the Mil bureau decided to update its basic design by introducing the Mi 17. This was a standard Mi 8 refitted with the more powerful en­gines and transmission from the naval Mi 14; the tail – rotor was relocated to the port side. The craft also employs a unique system for maintaining engine syn­chronization. Should one engine lose power or fail completely, the other automatically reaches a contin­gency rating of 2,200 horsepower to ensure steady flight. The Mi 8/17 family is a rugged, dependable se­ries of military machines with a long service life ahead. An estimated 13,000 have been built and are operated by 60, predominately Third World, nations.

. LeO 451

Type: Attack Helicopter

Dimensions: rotorspan, 56 feet, 9 inches; length, 57 feet, 5 inches; height, 13 feet, 1 inch

Weights: empty, 18,078 pounds; gross, 26,455 pounds

Power plant: 2 x 2,190-horsepower Klimov TV3-117 turboshaft engines

Performance: maximum speed, 208 miles per hour; ceiling, 14,750 feet; range, 456 miles

Armament: 1 x 23mm Gatling gun; 4 x gun or rocket pods

Service dates: 1973-


escribed as a “flying tank,” the formidable Mi 24 is the world’s biggest and most heavily armed helicopter gunship. It offers heavy firepower, good speed, and troop-carrying capacity in one lethal package.

The year 1967 witnessed introduction of the Bell AH-1 Cobra, the world’s first dedicated helicop­ter gunship. It proved highly effective against unpro­tected infantry during the Vietnam War and added new dimensions of firepower into battlefield equa­tions. Soviet planners watched such developments closely and decided they needed to counter this lat­est Western threat. It fell upon Mikhail Mil to design Russia’s first gunship, drawing upon his earlier expe­riences with large machines like the Mi 8 transport helicopter. He utilized the engine and transmission of the earlier craft, melded to a somewhat smaller, heavily armored fuselage. This contained high pro­portions of steel and titanium, making it nearly im­perious to small-arms fire. To this were fitted large anhedral winglets that produced added lift and acted as convenient platforms for carrying weapons.

A squad of eight fully armed soldiers could also be transported. Finally, the crew of two sat in a squared-off cabin with large glazed windows. The overall effect was impressive, and when the first Mi 24s were sighted in East Germany, NATO dubbed them HINDs.

Greater operational experience with the Mi 24 resulted in a total redesign of the forward portion. Henceforth, newer models sported two staggered canopies that granted better vision, along with a four – barrel machine gun in a chin turret. Tactically speak­ing, the HIND D was now more involved with battle­field firepower than in transporting troops. These behemoth gunships were employed in great numbers throughout the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, some­times with great success against lightly armed gueril­las. It was not until the United States supplied Stinger antiaircraft missiles that the big helicopters sustained meaningful losses. Mil 24s are still regarded as formi­dable antitank platforms in more conventional modes of warfare. An estimated 2,300 have been built and are still flown by 20 nations.

. LeO 451

Type: Transport

Dimensions: rotorspan, 105 feet; length, 110 feet, 8 inches; height, 26 feet, 9 inches

Weights: empty, 62,170 pounds; gross, 123,450 pounds

Power plant: 2 x 10,000-horsepower ZMKB D-136 turboshaft engines

Performance: maximum speed, 183 miles per hour; ceiling, 15,090 feet; range, 497 miles

Armament: none

Service dates: 1983-


y many measures, the giant Mi 26 is the world’s most powerful helicopter. It has an internal stor­age capacity equivalent to the Lockheed C-130 Her­cules!

By the early 1970s the Soviet government de­sired a heavy-lift replacement for its already impres­sive Mi 6 helicopters. The new machine was in­tended to possess twice the power and lifting ability of the older craft. These features were necessary for transporting great amounts of supplies to undevel­oped regions of the country, like Siberia, to assist development there. The Mil design bureau under N. M. Tishchyenko settled for a slightly smaller ver­sion of the existing craft, one absolutely crammed with power and aeronautical efficiency. In 1977 the first Mil 26 took flight and went on to establish sev­eral world payload and altitude records. At first glance it was outwardly similar to the Mi 6 but was driven by the world’s first eight-blade rotor. This de­vice allowed the helicopter to absorb power from the massive, twin ZMKB engines, and it made for
smooth, almost vibration-free flight. It also allowed the Mi 26 to dispense with the two pronounced winglets of the earlier craft. For loading purposes, the Mi 26 boasts an integral rear loading ramp and two powered clamshell cargo doors. It can carry up to 44,000 pounds of cargo or 100 fully equipped troops on a very strong titanium floor. It flies in both civilian and military guises with the NATO code name HALO.

Considerable ingenuity was expended in weight-saving measures. In fact, the Mi 26 is actually

2,200 pounds lighter that the less-capable Mi 6. Part of this comes from the rotor assembly, which is tita­nium; the huge rotor blades are made from steel spars and fiberglass. The big craft can be flown in any weather conditions using state-of-the-art naviga­tion and computerized flight assistance. On auto­hover it can reputedly remain motionless only 5 feet off the ground! This triumph of aeronautical engi­neering is destined to be the world’s chopper-lift champ for some time. A total of 70 have been built.

. LeO 451

Type: Trainer

Dimensions: wingspan, 39 feet; length, 35 feet, 7 inches; height, 9 feet, 3 inches

Weights: empty, 4,293 pounds; gross, 5,573 pounds

Power plant: 1 x 870-horsepower Bristol Mercury XX radial engine

Performance: maximum speed, 242 mile per hour; ceiling, 25,100 feet; range, 393 miles

Armament: 1 x.303-inch machine gun

Service dates: 1939-1950


he Master was the most numerous advanced British trainer of World War II. In its original form it possessed performance almost rivaling the fabled Hurricanes and Spitfires.

By 1935 the advent of high-performance monoplanes necessitated adoption of training craft with similar flight characteristics. In 1937 M. G. Miles fielded his Kestrel design, a low-wing mono­plane made of wood frames and covered in ply­wood. A crew of two was housed in a tandem cock­pit, and the instructor’s seat could be raised in flight for better view on takeoffs and landings. Powered by a 745-horsepower Rolls-Royce Kestrel engine, it reached 300 miles per hour, slightly slower than Hurricanes and Spitfires employing much more powerful engines. However, the Air Ministry re­mained disinterested, and the project subsided. The following year it reversed that decision, and Miles was required to modify the fuselage and reposition the radiator from the nose to the wing’s center sec­tion. Moreover, a derated Kestrel XXX engine was
utilized, which slowed the new craft down by 70 miles per hour. The Master, as it was christened, was still delightful to fly and handled very much like a fighter. In June 1938 the ministry adopted it under Specification 16/38 and ordered 500 copies. This was the largest order placed for a training plane to that date.

The first Master Is were not deployed at flight schools until the fall of 1939. Thereafter, they trained thousands of British pilots in the art of fighter tactics. As the war progressed, a shortage of Kestrel engines developed, so the Master II arose by mounting an 870-horsepower Bristol Mercury radial engine. This spoiled the airplane’s fine lines but re­sulted in a 16-mile-per-hour increase in speed. When these stocks ran out, the Master III was fitted with a lower-rated 825-horsepower Pratt & Whitney Wasp Junior and suffered a commensurate decrease in top speed. By war’s end, a total of 3,227 of the wonder­fully agile Masters had been delivered. Many were retained as trainers until 1950.

. LeO 451

Type: Fighter

Dimensions: wingspan, 36 feet, 1 inch; length, 24 feet, 9 inches; height, 10 feet, 6 inches

Weights: empty, 2,681 pounds; gross, 3,759 pounds

Power plant: 1 x 710-horsepower Nakajima Kotobuki radial engine

Performance: maximum speed, 273 miles per hour; ceiling, 32,150 feet; range, 746 miles

Armament: 2 x 7.7mm machine guns

Service dates: 1937-1945


he diminutive A5M set aviation standards as the world’s first all-metal, carrier-based monoplane. Commencing in 1937 it helped secure Japanese con­trol of the air during the war against China.

In 1934 the Imperial Japanese Navy issued new specifications for a monoplane fighter that could top 217 miles per hour in level flight and reach 6,000 feet in less than six minutes. It devolved upon a Mit­subishi design team under Jiro Horikoshi to devise an appropriate solution. He responded with a proto­type that, at the time it appeared, was revolutionary for Japan’s fledgling naval air arm. The new craft was an all-metal, low-wing monoplane with fixed, spatted wheels. It was totally covered in stressed metal and flush-riveted to reduce drag. During test flights in 1936 the prototype reached 280 miles per hour, 60 miles per hour faster than the specifica­tions, but problems were encountered with the wing shape. It originally possessed a gull-shaped plan – form, but this subsequently gave way to a graceful, elliptical design. Once fitted to a more powerful en­gine, the new craft exhibited better speed and per­
formance than contemporary Japanese biplanes, so in 1937 it entered the service as the A5M. It debuted as the world’s most advanced carrier-based fighter, and during World War II Allied intelligence gave it the code name Claude.

No sooner were A5Ms built than they deployed from Japanese carriers operating off the Chinese coast. These demonstrated their mettle over Nanking in September 1937 by shooting down 10 Chinese-piloted Polikarpov I 16 monoplanes without loss. Thereafter, the Claudes facilitated Japanese control of the air over Chinese coastal regions. A fully enclosed cockpit was fitted to the second model in an attempt to improve the A5M, but the swashbuckling Japanese pilots objected, and later models reverted back to an open cockpit. In the early days of the Pacific war, Claudes were the most numerically important Japanese fighter, but they were rapidly outclassed by newer Allied fighters. Most were retired by the summer of 1942 to serve as trainers, but after 1945 many became kamikazes. Total production ran to 1,094 machines.

. LeO 451

Type: Fighter

Dimensions: wingspan, 36 feet, 1 inch; length, 29 feet, 11 inches; height, 11 feet, 6 inches

Weights: empty, 4,136 pounds; gross, 6,508 pounds

Power plant: 1 x 1,130-horsepower Nakajima NK1F radial engine

Performance: maximum speed, 351 miles per hour; ceiling, 36,255 feet; range, 1,193 miles Armament: 2 x 7.7mm machine guns; 2 x 20mm cannon Service dates: 1940-1945


he legendary A6M (the dreaded Zero) was the first carrier-based fighter in history to outper­form land-based equivalents, and it arrived in greater quantities than any other Japanese aircraft. Despite the Zero’s aura of invincibility, better Allied machines gradually rendered it obsolete.

As early as 1937 the Imperial Japanese Navy began searching for a craft to replace its A5M carrier – based fighters. That year it issued specifications so stringent that only Mitsubishi was willing to hazard a design. Specifically, the navy wanted a fighter of prodi­gious range and maneuverability, one able to defeat bigger land-based opponents. A design team headed by Jiro Horikoshi originated a prototype in 1939. The A6M was a study in aerodynamic cleanliness despite its bulky radial engine. It had widetrack undercarriage for easy landing and was heavily armed with two cannons and two machine guns. Tests proved it possessed phe­nomenal climbing and turning ability, so it entered pro­duction in 1940, the Japanese year 5700. Henceforth, the new fighter was known officially as the Type 0, but it passed into history as the Reisen, or Zero.

A small production batch of 30 Zeroes was sent to China in the summer of 1940 for evaluation, and they literally swept the sky of Chinese opposi­tion. Such prowess was duly noted by Claire L. Chennault, future commander of the famed Flying Tigers, but his warnings were ignored. Zeroes sub­sequently spearheaded the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, and over the next six months they ran roughshod over all Allied op­position. However, following the Japanese defeat at Midway in June 1942, the fabled fighter lost much of its ascendancy to new Allied fighters and a growing shortage of experienced pilots. New and more powerful versions of the Zero were intro­duced to stem the tide, but relatively weak con­struction could not withstand mounting Allied fire­power. Furthermore, the additional weight of new weapons and equipment eroded its famous powers of maneuver. By 1945 most A6Ms had been con­verted into kamikazes in a futile attempt to halt the Allied surge toward the homeland. A total of 10,964 were constructed.

. LeO 451

Type: Medium Bomber; Torpedo-Bomber


Dimensions: wingspan, 82 feet; length, 53 feet, 11 inches; height, 12 feet, 1 inch

Weights: empty, 11,552 pounds; gross, 17,637 pounds

Power plant: 2 x 1,300-horsepower Mitsubishi Kinsei radial engines

Performance: maximum speed, 258 miles per hour; ceiling, 33,725 feet; range, 3,871 miles

Armament: 4 x 7.7mm machine guns; 1 x 20mm cannon; 1,764 pounds of bombs or torpedoes

Service dates: 1937-1945


t the time of its appearance, the Nell was one of the world’s most advanced long-range bombers. It participated in many famous actions in World War II before assuming transport duties.

In 1934 Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, future head of the Japanese Combined Fleet, advocated develop­ment of long-range land-based naval bombers to com­pliment carrier-based aviation. That year Mitsubishi designed and flew the Ka 9, an unsightly but effective reconnaissance craft with great endurance. It owed more than a passing resemblance to Junkers’s Ju 86, as that firm had assisted Mitsubishi with the design. Now a team headed by Dr. Kiro Honjo developed that craft into the even more capable Ka 15. It was a twin – engine, midwing design with stressed skin through­out, twin rudders, and distinctive, tapered wings. Fol­lowing a succession of prototypes, it entered service in 1937 as the G3M. That year these bombers made history by launching the first transoceanic raids against the Chinese cities of Hankow and Nanking from their home island—convincing proof of Japan’s
burgeoning aerial prowess. Moreover, the G3M could also function as an effective torpedo-bomber, adding even greater punch to Japanese naval aviation. By the time World War II erupted in the Pacific in December 1941, the G3M formed the bulk of Japanese naval medium bomber strength. At that time it acquired the Allied designation Nell.

Three days after Pearl Harbor, G3Ms made world headlines when a force of 60 bombers helped sink the British battleships HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales off Malaysia. Several days later, Nells were among the first Japanese aircraft shot down by U. S. Navy fighters at Wake Island. The spring of 1942 then witnessed G3Ms functioning as parachute aircraft over the Dutch East Indies. Within months, however, revitalized Allied forces poured into the region, forcing the slow and under­armed Nells to sustain heavy losses. By 1942 most had ceased active combat operations and spent the rest of the war as transports. Production came to 1,048 machines.

. LeO 451

Type: Medium Bomber; Torpedo-Bomber

Dimensions: wingspan, 82 feet; length, 63 feet, 11 inches; height, 19 feet, 8 inches Weights: empty, 18,409 pounds; gross, 27,558 pounds Power plant: 2 x 1,825-horsepower Mitsubishi MK4T Kaisei radial engines Performance: maximum speed, 292 miles per hour; ceiling, 30,250 feet; range, 2,694 miles Armament: 4 x 7.7mm machine guns; 1 x 20mm cannon; 2,205 pounds of bombs or torpedoes Service dates: 1940-1945


he bulbous G4M was the most numerous and best-known Japanese medium bomber of World War II. It possessed incredible range, but its unar­mored fuel tanks led to the unenviable nickname “Flying Lighter.”

In 1937 the Imperial Japanese Navy issued an incredibly difficult specification mandating produc­tion of land-based bombers with even greater range than the superb G3M. Although such performance was usually attained by four-engine designs, the new craft was restricted to only two. That year Kiro Honjo commenced work on a machine whereby fuel capacity was emphasized to the exclusion of all other considerations. In 1939 the G4M prototype was flown as an all-metal, midwing design with rak­ish wings and tail surfaces melded to a rotund fuse­lage. As expected, the airplane performed well and possessed impressive range. However, this was achieved by stuffing as much fuel as possible into wing tanks that remained unarmored to save weight; crew armor was also deleted for the same reason. Nonetheless, the navy was highly pleased with the

G4M, and in 1940 it entered production. The follow­ing year they were baptized under fire in northern China, performing well against limited opposition. When the Pacific war broke out in December 1941, roughly 160 G4Ms were in service. Allied forces gave them the code name Betty.

The G4M came as quite a surprise to British and American forces, who believed themselves be­yond the reach of medium bombers. But in quick succession, G4Ms helped sink the battleships HMS Repulse and Prince of Wales, and they plastered airfields throughout the Philippines. It was not until the spring of 1942 that the Betty’s weakness was revealed. The very attributes endowing it with such long range caused it be destroyed by a few tracer rounds. The G4Ms took staggering losses during the Guadalcanal campaign, and the Japa­nese finally introduced self-sealing tanks and crew armor in subsequent versions. One of the last roles of the G4M would be to carry the Yokosuka MXY 7 Oka suicide rocket. Production totaled 2,416 of all versions.

. LeO 451

Type: Fighter

Dimensions: wingspan, 35 feet, 5 inches; length, 32 feet, 7 inches; height, 12 feet, 11 inches

Weights: empty, 5,423 pounds; gross, 8,695 pounds

Power plant: 1 x 1,820-horsepower Mitsubishi MK4R Kasei radial engine

Performance: maximum speed, 371 miles per hour; ceiling, 38,385 feet; range, 655 miles

Armament: 4 x 20mm cannon

Service dates: 1944-1945


he J2M was a radical departure from traditional Japanese fighter design precepts, emphasizing speed and climb over maneuverability. Despite per­sistent engine problems, it matured into an effective bomber interceptor.

A 1939 Japanese navy specification outlined creation of an interceptor-fighter, the first acquired by that service. Foremost among design considera­tions was an ability to reach 20,000 feet in only six minutes. Jiro Horikoshi subsequently led a team that created a machine that emphasized climb and speed above all other attributes. The prototype arrived in March 1942 and differed completely from Japanese fighters then in service. The new craft was exceed­ingly squat and compact, with stubby, laminar-flow wings and a long-chord cowl. The canopy section was extremely curved while the radial engine, which was rather broad, was fitted with a streamlined re­duction assembly to reduce cowling surface area. The J2M’s first flights proved disappointing, as it was slower than anticipated, hard to handle, and difficult to see from. A complete overhaul was enacted to
correct these problems, but the engine chosen, the Mitsubishi Kasei, remained a source of endless teething problems. It was not until late 1943 that the J2M’s performance became acceptable, and it en­tered operations the following spring as the Raiden (Thunderbolt). Allies came to call the diminutive lit­tle powerhouse the Jack.

In service the Raiden was beset by continual technical problems, mostly arising from the Kasei en­gine. Unfortunately, thanks to U. S. bombing, no other power source could be made available. Thus, the Raiden never reached its full potential until the last months of the war, when the remaining bugs were worked out. It was then pitted against Boeing’s formidable B-29. The J2M was one of few Japanese aircraft that could engage heavy bombers at high alti­tude, and by virtue of its heavy armament, several kills were scored. It was fortunate for the Allies that the Jack’s development was prolonged, for postwar tests revealed it to be a formidable interceptor. More­over, it could outclimb any Allied fighter extant. Only 476 J2Ms were constructed before the war ended.

. LeO 451

Type: Medium Bomber

Dimensions: wingspan, 73 feet, 9 inches; length, 52 feet, 6 inches; height, 15 feet, 11 inches

Weights: empty, 13,382 pounds; gross, 23,391 pounds

Power plant: 2 x 1,500-horsepower Mitsubishi Ha-101 radial engines

Performance: maximum speed, 301 miles per hour; ceiling, 32,810 feet; range, 1,678 miles

Armament: 5 x 7.7mm machine guns; 1 x 12.7mm machine gun; up to 2,205 pounds of bombs

Service dates: 1938-1945


he Ki 21 was one of the world’s best bombers when it appeared in 1938, combining good speed and range into an attractive airframe. However, by World War II it was rapidly overtaken by more mod­ern designs.

In 1936 the Imperial Japanese Army issued de­manding specifications for a new bomber with five hours’ endurance and a cruising speed of 250 miles per hour. Mitsubishi accepted the challenge and in 1937 beat out a Nakajima competitor with the Ki 21. It was an extremely attractive, all-metal, midwing bomber with stressed skin. It featured retractable landing gear, and its most distinctive feature was a long greenhouse canopy for the rear gunner. In flight the Ki 21 was fast and very agile for its size. The army approved the Ki 21 as its new heavy bomber (although by Western standards it would be classi­fied as a medium bomber), and by 1938 the first units were deployed in China. During the next three years, Ki 21s did sterling service against weak Chi­nese defenses, although crews realized that stronger
defensives were needed. Mitsubishi then added a dorsal turret, ventral guns, and a remotely operated “tail stinger” in the rear. By 1941 the Ki 21 was the most important Japanese army bomber in service. Early in World War II it initially received the Allied designation Jane, a none-too-subtle reference to General Douglas MacArthur’s wife, but this was sub­sequently changed to Sally.

The Sally performed useful work during the initial phases of the Pacific war against scattered and disorganized Allied defenses. It flew in great numbers against Burma, the Philippines, Java, and northern Australia. However, within a year more ad­vanced British and American fighters began appear­ing, and lightly armed Ki 21s suffered disproportion­ate losses. Stronger engines and heavier armament were fitted on late-production models, but by 1943 the hardworking Sally had been surpassed by better machines. Thereafter and until the end of the war, it was employed in transport and training functions. A total of 2,062 were constructed.

. LeO 451

Type: Reconnaissance; Fighter

Dimensions: wingspan, 48 feet, 2 inches; length, 36 feet, 1 inch; height, 12 feet, 8 inches

Weights: empty, 8,444 pounds; gross, 14,330 pounds

Power plant: 2 x 1,500-horsepower Mitsubishi Ha-112 II radial engines

Performance: maximum speed, 391 miles per hour; ceiling, 34,450 feet; range, 2,485 miles

Armament: none

Service dates: 1941-1945


he beautiful Ki 46 was the among the most capa­ble reconnaissance aircraft of World War II. It performed critical intelligence work prior to the out­break of hostilities by mapping invasion routes and Allied defenses.

Commencing in 1937, the Japanese army em­ployed the Mitsubishi Ki 15 in China for reconnais­sance purposes. This single-engine craft did ex­tremely useful photographic work, although war planners realized a more modern airplane would be needed for a war with Western powers. Therefore, that same year they authorized Mitsubishi to com­mence research on a new twin-engine replacement for the Ki 15, with speed, altitude, and range taking precedence over all other considerations. A design team headed by Tomio Kubo then originated a proto­type that first flew in November 1939. This new ma­chine, the Ki 46, was startlingly beautiful to behold. It was a low-wing, all-metal affair with extremely rak­ish lines, a sharply pointed nose, and cleanly cowled engines. Test flights revealed it fell about 10 percent short of required performance, but it was still faster
than any Japanese fighter in service. The following year more powerful motors were installed, and the Ki 46 easily reached 35,000 feet at 350 miles per hour, with endurance of seven hours. When the Ki 46 en­tered production in 1941, it was the most outstanding reconnaissance craft in the world. During World War II it received the Allied designation Dinah.

Prior to the Pacific war, the Dinah flew clan­destine intelligence missions throughout Southeast Asia and the Pacific, carefully photographing Allied installations and the best invasion routes to reach them. It continued this work well into 1942, being so fast and high-flying that interception was virtually impossible. Eventually, improved Allied fighters began to take a toll on the earlier machines, so a new variant, the Ki 46 III, was introduced. It fea­tured a front canopy that was completely fared into the fuselage. This model flew so high and fast that a special bomber-interceptor version was introduced late in 1944. Dinahs continued excellent reconnais­sance work up through the end of hostilities. It was a truly outstanding aircraft for its time.

. LeO 451

Type: Medium Bomber; Torpedo-Bomber


Dimensions: wingspan, 73 feet, 9 inches; length, 61 feet, 4 inches, height, 25 feet, 3 inches

Weights: empty, 19,070 pounds; gross, 30,347 pounds

Power plant: 2 x 1,900-horsepower Mitsubishi Ha-104 radial engines

Performance: maximum speed, 334 miles per hour; ceiling, 31,070 feet; range, 2,361 miles

Armament: 3 x 12.7mm machine guns; 1 x 20mm cannon; 2,350 pounds of bombs or torpedoes

Service dates: 1944-1945


he Ki 67 Hiryu was the best all-around Japanese bomber of World War II and possessed impres­sive speed and agility for its class. However, it ar­rived too late and in too few numbers to alter Japan’s military fate.

A spate of border clashes with the Soviet Union during the late 1930s convinced the Japanese military that it needed bombers with greater speed, range, and payload than existing models. In 1940 the army drafted demanding specifications for a new tactical bomber, and Mitsubishi responded with a prototype that first flew in December 1942. The Ki 67 was an all-metal, midwing machine with tapering wings and tail surfaces not unlike the earlier G4M bomber. However, the fuselage was much slimmer and more aerodynamically refined. The new craft also boasted ample armament and armor for the crew, along with self-sealing fuel tanks. The Ki 67 performed extremely well during flight tests, being fast and maneuverable for its size; it could even be
looped! The army was delighted and ordered it into production as the Hiryu (Flying Dragon). Experi­ments had shown that it excelled as a torpedo – bomber, so the navy also acquired the plane in quan­tity. Soon the Allies came to know this formidable machine as the Peggy.

In 1944 the Ki 67 debuted with naval units during the Battle of the Philippine Sea. They performed capa­bly, but their effectiveness was compromised by inex­perienced pilots and swarms of U. S. fighters. At length it was decided to produce a specialized kamikaze model operated by three crew members and outfitted with a nose boom that ignited explosives on impact. By this time the homeland was being ravaged by massed B-29 raids, so a high-altitude fighter version, the Ki 109, was also developed. This version mounted a 75mm cannon in a solid nose but, given Japan’s in­ability to obtain turbosuperchargers, it failed to reach the necessary altitudes. Peggys fought well until the end of the war; only 698 were built.

. LeO 451

Type: Trainer; Light Bomber

Dimensions: wingspan, 25 feet, 10 inches; length, 58 feet, 7 inches; height, 14 feet, 5 inches Weights: empty, 14,017 pounds; gross, 30,203 pounds

Power plant: 2 x 5,115-pound thrust Rolls-Royce/Turbomeca turbojet engines Performance: maximum speed, 1,056 miles per hour; ceiling, 50,000 feet; range, 345 miles Armament: 1 x 20mm Gatling gun; up to 6,000 pounds of bombs and rockets Service dates: 1976-2000


he T 2/F 1 series was Japan’s first foray into super­sonic technology and the first warplanes con­structed there since 1945. Given the defensive-minded outlook of Japan, these imposing machines are offi­cially designated as “anti-landing craft” airplanes.

By 1967 the Japan Self Defense Force desired modern supersonic equipment to replace its Korean War-vintage North American F-86 Sabres. It also needed a more capable trainer to facilitate easier transition to Lockheed F-104 Starfighters and Mc – Donnell-Douglas F-4 Phantoms then being acquired. Accordingly, a design team under Dr. Kenji Ikeda conceived an aircraft not dissimilar in appearance and performance to the Northrop T-38 Talon and SEPECAT Jaguar trainers. The prototype T 2 emerged in 1971 with marked similarity to the ear­lier Jaguar and, in fact, utilized the same engines. It was a streamlined, high-wing machine with an ex­tremely pointed profile. Lacking ailerons, it obtains lateral control through the use of differential spoil­ers mounted in front of the flaps. The T 2 also em­
ploys variable-geometry lateral air intakes to opti­mize performance at high altitude. The type entered production in 1976, and a total of 90 were com­pleted. The T 2 also displays the maneuverability and handling qualities long associated with Japa­nese airplanes.

The next stage of the program’s evolution was to modify the T 2 into a high-performance strike fighter for antishipping/defensive purposes. This specification was precisely delineated, as the cur­rent Japanese constitution precludes offensive oper­ations and, hence, no attack aircraft are permitted. The first F 1 rolled out in 1975 as a machine very similar to the T 2. The most notable change was a fared-over rear canopy containing an advanced radar/navigation set. The first F 1s were delivered in 1977 and rapidly replaced the elderly F-86s. In ser­vice these aircraft proved themselves fast and reli­able strike platforms. A total of 77 were constructed, but they are eventually to be phased out by the more advanced FS-X.

. LeO 451

Type: Fighter

Dimensions: wingspan, 27 feet, 11 inches; length, 18 feet, 6 inches; height, 7 feet, 10 inches

Weights: empty, 928 pounds; gross, 1,431 pounds

Power plant: 1 x 150-horsepower Gnome Monosoupape rotary engine

Performance: maximum speed, 129 miles per hour; ceiling, 22,965 feet; range, 200 miles

Armament: 1 or 2 x 7.7mm machine guns

Service dates: 1918


he A 1 was an attractive machine, but a reputa­tion for structural weakness forestalled wide­spread service. However, it subsequently inspired a generation of French parasol fighters in the decades that followed.

In 1917 the firm of Morane-Saulnier decided to develop a new monoplane fighter to replace its novel but unsuccessful N model, or “Bullet.” The new craft, christened the A 1, was a handsome para­sol design with several unique features. The over­head wing was decidedly backswept and possessed large ailerons that cut forward into each wingtip. This assembly was then secured to the fuselage by an intricate series of bracing struts to withstand the stress of violent maneuvering. The fuselage itself possessed a circular cross-section and tapered rear­ward to a point. It was fabric-covered up to the dis­tinct metal cowling, a beautifully contoured piece sporting seven ventilation slots around the opening. The A 1 looked and flew impressively, so in the fall of 1917 it was ordered into production. Three mod­els were built; the MoS 27, which had one machine
gun; the MoS 29, which mounted two; and the MoS 30, an unarmed trainer.

The new fighter originally equipped three fighter escadrilles (squadrons) as of January 1918 but was withdrawn from combat a few months later. Apparently, several aircraft had been lost to structural failure, and it was also deemed under­powered. The 1,210 production machines conse­quently spent the remainder of the war as trainers. It was a standard French practice to take A 1s and strip large portions of their wing fabric, rendering them unflyable. Such craft, known as “Penguins,” were employed for taxiing instruction only. Post­war service largely refuted the A 1’s reputation for weakness. It became a favored stunt machine of French ace Charles Nungesser, and on February 25, 1928, Alfred Fronal consecutively looped his parasol fighter 1,111 times over a period of four hours without incident! But the greatest legacy of the A 1 was that it inspired Morane-Saulnier para­sol fighters like the MS 130 and MS 230 in the 1920s and 1930s.

. LeO 451

Type: Reconnaissance

Dimensions: wingspan, 33 feet, 9 inches; length, 20 feet, 9 inches; height, 10 feet, 4 inches Weights: empty, 849 pounds; gross, 1,444 pounds Power plant: 1 x 80-horsepower Gnome rotary engine

Performance: maximum speed, 71 miles per hour; ceiling, 13,123 feet; range, 280 miles Armament: none, officially Service dates: 1914-1915


he fragile-looking Type L, nominally a reconnais­sance craft, became the world’s first successful “fighter” without ever intending to do so. Among its many victims was a giant German Zeppelin.

In 1913 the Morane-Saulnier firm initiated what would become a two-decade long obsession with parasol aircraft by designing the Model L. It was a functional, if indisputably ugly, machine with a single wing mounted high over the rectangular fuselage. The Model L did, in fact, possess lively performance for its day, and that year the Turkish government ordered 50 copies. These machines were seized by the French government following the start of World War I and hastily impressed into service. The seemingly harm­less two-seaters were originally intended for recon­naissance purposes until flight crews began arming themselves with rifles, pistols, and carbines. In this manner, several of the equally vulnerable German Al – batros and Aviatik reconnaissance aircraft were shot down in primitive aerial combat. The Morane-Saulnier Ls gave a good account of themselves until forced into retirement by more advanced German fighters in 1915.

Two incidents stand out in the history of this pioneer warplane. Of the 600 Type Ls constructed, several were exported to England for service with the Royal Navy Air Service. On June 7, 1915, Sub­Lieutenant R. A.J. Warneford encountered a huge German Zeppelin while patrolling over Bruges, Belgium. He valiantly dodged heavy machine gun­fire until reaching an altitude of 11,000 feet, above his intended victim. He then dove straight down, dropping six small bomblets and setting it afire. For destroying the first Zeppelin of the war, Warneford received the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest honor. Another famous name indelibly as­sociated with this craft was noted French aviator Roland Garros. Garros had installed a machine gun in his parasol that fired through the propeller arc in unsynchronized fashion. He claimed four German victims, but on April 19, 1915, Garros was himself shot down. The captured airplane inspired Anthony Fokker to invent a truly synchronized ma­chine gun; thus was born the “Fokker scourge” of the following year.

. LeO 451

Type: Fighter

Dimensions: wingspan, 34 feet, 9 inches; length, 26 feet, 9 inches; height, 9 feet, 9 inches Weights: empty, 4,189 pounds; gross, 5,445 pounds

Power plant: 1 x 860-horsepower Hispano-Suiza 12Y-21 liquid-cooled in-line engine Performance: maximum speed, 302 miles per hour; ceiling, 30,840 feet; range, 497 miles Armament: 2 x 7.5mm machine guns; 1 x 20mm cannon Service dates: 1939-1940


his mediocre design was the most numerous French fighter of World War II. Underpowered and underarmed, it subsequently saw service in the air forces of Switzerland, Croatia, and Finland.

In 1934 the Morane-Saulnier firm broke with its long practice of building parasol fighters by field­ing the company’s first monoplane aircraft. This was the prototype MS 405, a low-wing machine with fully retractable landing gear. It was the first French fighter to exceed 250 miles per hour in level flight, but retained many archaic features. Rather than breaking with tradition, the new craft employed steel-tube construction with fabric-covered control surfaces and aft fuselage. Its composite skin con­sisted of plymax—plywood bonded to aluminum, which covered the wings and forward fuselage. The braced tailplane and fixed tailskid also harkened back to an earlier age. The MS 405 first flew in 1935, but flight-testing was dreadfully slow, and three years lapsed before the craft entered production as the MS 406. Nonetheless, when World War II erupted
in September 1939, it was the most important French fighter available and fully equipped 12 groupes de chasse (fighter groups).

From the onset, the MS 406 proved markedly inferior to nimble German Messerschmitt Bf 109Es. It was slower, less robust, and possessed weaker firepower in the form of a 20mm cannon firing through the propeller hub and two 7.5mm machine guns. In its favor, the MS 406 did handle pleasantly, but that alone could not transform it into an effec­tive fighter. By the time of France’s collapse, MS 406s claimed 175 German airplanes at a loss of 400. As an indication of its poor reputation, the newly im­posed Vichy regime retained only one MS 406 unit in service and exported the remainder abroad. The biggest customers were Finland and Croatia, which refitted many MS 406s with more powerful Soviet engines for better performance. Total production amounted to 1,080 machines. The Swiss also subse­quently developed it into a series of domestic fight­ers, the D 3800.

. Agusta A 129 Mangusta

Dimensions: rotorspan, 39 feet; length, 40 feet, 3 inches; height, 11 feet Weights: empty, 5,575 pounds; gross, 9,039 pounds Power plant: 2 x Rolls-Royce 1004D turboshaft engines

Performance: maximum speed, 183 miles per hour; ceiling, 14,900 feet; range, 120 miles Armament: 8 x Hellfire antitank missiles; various gunpods Service dates: 1990-


he mighty Mangusta is the first European attack helicopter and Italy’s most effective antitank weapons system. It is also the first such machine to utilize a fully computerized, integrated management system to ease crew workload.

The utility of helicopters as antitank weapons greatly increased in the 1970s with deployment of such armored behemoths as the Mil Mi 24 Hind and the Hughes AH-64 Apache. In 1972 the Italian army followed suit by advancing specifications for a new light attack helicopter, the first such ma­chine designed in Europe. This helicopter was in­tended to be unique from the start because of its highly automated nature. Once airborne, both flight and armament functions were to be monitored and controlled by an integrated computer system. Agusta, fresh from its success with the A 106 model, advanced a prototype in 1983. The new A 129 Mangusta (Mongoose) utilizes the rear half of the earlier A 106 with a totally redesigned front portion. It is heavily armored and highly angular, with stepped seating for the pilot and gunner. The
two high-powered engines are well protected and fed cold air to reduce infrared heat signatures. The main rotor has four blades and is made primarily from light composite materials. These are tough, able to withstand direct hits from Soviet-style 23mm cannon shells.

The A 129 is especially designed to function in a combat environment without excessively tiring the crew. For this reason the integrated flight system monitors and displays only seven basic functions to pilot and gunner so as not to distract them. The Mangusta is also capable of nighttime activity and mounts state-of-the-art night vision with infrared de­tection gear. For offensive purposes it usually car­ries eight Hellfire antitank missiles and a plethora of smaller rockets and gunpods. The Italian army has procured 60 of these hard-hitting machines, and they proved effective during UN peacekeeping ef­forts in Somalia. However, the Mangusta has yet to find customers abroad. They remain potent fighting systems, but the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991 may render them redundant in the antitank role.

. Caproni Ca 5

Type: Heavy Bomber

Dimensions: wingspan, 76 feet, 9 inches; length, 41 feet, 4 inches; height, 14 feet, 5 inches

Weights: empty, 5,512 pounds; gross, 11,685 pounds

Power plant: 3 x 300-horsepower Fiat A-12 liquid-cooled inline engines

Performance: maximum speed, 94 miles per hour; ceiling, 14,764 feet; range, 400 miles

Armament: 3 x 7.7mm machine guns; up to 3,000 pounds of bombs

Service dates: 1915-1928


taly possessed the largest strategic bomber pro­gram of World War I, one that exceed contempo­rary British and German efforts both in size and ca­pacity. The various Caproni aircraft involved were strong, functional machines and were well-suited to the tasks at hand.

Count Gianni Caproni founded his aircraft firm in 1908, and he manufactured successful civilian de­signs for several years. Italy, however, was unique among Western powers in that discussions pertaining to military applications of airpower were widespread. Caproni underscored this interest in 1913 when he constructed the world’s first strategic bomber, the Ca 30. This was a large triplane with a single nacelle housing the crew and three pusher engines. Subse­quent refinements culminated in the Ca 31, in which two of the pusher engines were mounted at the head of the booms in tractor configuration. This ungainly but practical machine entered production in 1914 as the Ca 1. Several were operational in August 1915 when, following Italy’s declaration of war against

Austria, two Capronis dropped bombs on Aisovizza. The age of strategic warfare had dawned.

As the war progressed, Caproni continually in­troduced better engines and performance in his tri­plane bombers. Because most of the targets were at great distances, and mountain ranges had to be crossed, the company placed greater emphasis on more powerful engines, greater lift, and payload. The Ca 4 was a major subtype that featured 350-horse­power engines with varying arrangements of nose – and tailgunners. The latter position required gunners to stand upright—fully exposed to frigid mountain air. The final Caproni bomber of the war was the Ca 5, which maintained the same general layout as before but reverted back to biplane status. Like all aircraft of this design, it was rather slow and ponder­ous, but it was ruggedly built and easy to fly. By war’s end, 740 of the giant craft had been assembled in var­ious subtypes, and they did excellent work. Several were subsequently converted into civilian airliners, while others performed military service until 1928.

. Myasishchev M 4 Molot

Type: Strategic Bomber; Tanker; Reconnaissance

Dimensions: wingspan, 174 feet, 4 inches; length, 169 feet, 7 inches; height, 46 feet, 3 inches

Weights: empty, 166,975 pounds; gross, 423,280 pounds

Power plant: 4 x 20,944-pound thrust Mikulin RD-3M-500Aturbojet engines

Performance: maximum speed, 620 miles per hour; ceiling, 44,950 feet; range, 7,705 miles

Armament: 8 x 23mm cannons; up to 19,842 pounds of nuclear weapons

Service dates: 1956-


he impressive M 4, often touted as “Russia’s B-52,” was in fact a strategic white elephant. In­capable of bombing the United States, they found useful employment as tankers and reconnaissance craft.

Vladimir M. Myasishchev was a senior engi­neer with the Petlyakov design bureau until the end of World War II, when he was summarily told to re­tire. Having prior experience with the Soviet gulag system, he dutifully slipped into obscurity to teach aeronautics until 1949, when Stalin personally or­dered him to create his own design bureau. Mya – sishchev suddenly found himself tasked with creat­ing a huge intercontinental jet bomber capable of dropping atomic bombs on the United States and re­turning safely! Given the primitive nature of jet tech­nology at that time, the Tupolev rival firm opted to utilize turboprop engines instead. However, Mya­sishchev performed as ordered, and in 1954 the pro­totype M 4 Molot (Hammer) made its dramatic ap­pearance during the annual May Day flyover. It was a sight calculated to send shivers down the spines of

Western observers. The M 4 was huge, possessed swept wings and tail surfaces, and mounted four gi­gantic Mikulin turbojet engines buried in the wing roots. By 1956 around 200 of the giant craft had been delivered and constituted the bulk of Soviet strate­gic aviation. For many years thereafter, U. S. defense experts strained over the prospect of countering the Soviets’ intimidating “B-52.” NATO code named it BISON.

In reality, the M 4 possessed only half the thrust and range of Boeing’s B-52, a true interconti­nental bomber, and was scarcely a strategic threat. The Soviets understood this perfectly and continued building seemingly obsolete Tu 95 turboprop bombers for many years thereafter. By the 1960s the aging Myasishchev giants were employed only as tankers and maritime reconnaissance craft. One ex­ample, the VM-T Alant, was given twin rudders and employed to haul oversized parts for the Soviet space program. A few M 4s remain in service as test vehicles. Literally—and figuratively—the massive Molot was a big failure.

. Myasishchev M 4 Molot

Type: Torpedo-Bomber; Light Bomber

Dimensions: wingspan, 48 feet, 10 inches; length, 34 feet; height, 12 feet, 6 inches

Weights: empty, 6,636 pounds; gross, 11,464 pounds

Power plant: 1 x 1,800-horsepower Nakajima Mamoru radial engine

Performance: maximum speed, 235 miles per hour; ceiling, 27,100 feet; range, 1,237 miles

Armament: 1 x 7.7mm machine gun; 1,764 pounds of bombs or torpedoes

Service dates: 1938-1945


he stately B5N was the world’s best carrier – based torpedo-bomber during the initial phases of World War II. Although somewhat outdated, it sank several thousand tons of U. S. warships.

In 1935 the Imperial Japanese Navy sought quantum improvement in its torpedo-bombers, issu­ing specifications for a new all-metal monoplane. The new craft had to reflect stringent requirements: less than 50 feet in wingspan, capable of carrier stor­age, with at least four-hour endurance fully armed. The following year a Nakajima design team under Katsuji Nakamura conceived the B5N, which first flew in 1937. It was a low-wing monoplane with stressed skin and a long greenhouse canopy housing three crew members. It also possessed widetrack landing gear for ease of landing, and had extremely smooth lines. The B5N proved somewhat underpow­ered but entered production the following year. They performed well against weak Chinese defenses as a light bomber, but clearly a stronger engine was needed. By 1939 new versions with the Sakae 11 ra­dial engine were produced, with little overall im­
provement. However, the gentle-handling B5N, once teamed with the Long Lance torpedo, a notorious shipkiller, was a weapon of great potential. At the onset of the Pacific war in December 1941, B5Ns formed the core of elite Japanese carrier aviation. They received the Allied code name Kate.

The deadly effectiveness of the B5N was un­derscored during the attack on Pearl Harbor when 146, flying as light bombers and torpedo craft, sank eight U. S. battleships. Thereafter, in a succession of naval engagements that ranged throughout the eastern Pacific, Kates were responsible for sinking or severely damaging the carriers USS Lexington, USS Yorktown, and USS Hornet by October 1942. But Japanese forces were severely pummeled in these affairs, and the Americans slowly acquired air superiority with better fighters. Thereafter, Kates became easy targets and suffered severe losses until 1944, when they finally withdrew from frontline service. Several were then fitted with radar and performed antisubmarine patrols until the war’s end.

. Myasishchev M 4 Molot

Type: Torpedo-Bomber


Dimensions: wingspan, 48 feet, 10 inches; length, 35 feet, 7 inches; height, 12 feet, 5 inches Weights: empty, 6,636 pounds; gross, 12,456 pounds Power plant: 1 x 1,850-horsepower Mitsubishi MK4T Kasei radial engine Performance: maximum speed, 299 miles per hour; ceiling, 29,660 feet; range, 1,085 miles Armament: 1 x 7.7mm machine gun; 1 x 12.7mm machine gun; 1 x 1,764 pound torpedo Service dates: 1944-1945


he rugged Jill, as it was known to the Allies, was a tardy entry to World War II intended to replace the earlier and more famous Kate. A capable ma­chine, it was continually beset by engine problems and inexperienced crews.

By 1939 the Imperial Japanese Navy realized that a replacement of the aging B5N torpedo-bomber was becoming a military necessity. The naval staff then approached Nakajima and suggested a new craft, based upon existing designs, that would employ the widely manufactured Mitsubishi Kasei radial engine. The ensuing B6N was then developed by Kenichi Mat – sumura, who took the liberty of powering it with the company’s new and untested Mamoru engine. This air­plane showed strong family resemblance to the B5N and sported its big engine in an oversized cowling. An­other unique feature was the oil cooler, which was off­set to the left so as not to interfere with torpedo­launching. Tests revealed the plane to be faster than the old Kate but less easily handled. Furthermore, the B6N suffered from prolonged development because
the Mamoru engine vibrated strongly and tended to overheat. It was not until 1943 that these teething problems were resolved and the B6N could enter pro­duction as the Tenzan (Heavenly Mountain). The B6N was superior in some technical aspects to the Grum­man TBF Avenger and Fairey Barracuda, but by then the Japanese navy was in dire straits.

The B6N, code named Jill, was a fine torpedo platform, but it was deployed at a time when the Americans enjoyed total air superiority. Moreover, sheer size restricted it to operating from the biggest carriers, and it frequently went into battle bereft of fighter escort. Consequently, in a succession of bat­tles ranging from Bougainville to Okinawa, most B6Ns were shot down before ever reaching their tar­gets. Once all Japanese carriers were lost, they were further restricted to operating from land bases. By 1945 the tide of war had inexorably turned in Amer­ica’s favor, and many Jills were converted and flown as kamikazes. A total of 1,133 of these formidable machines were built.

. Myasishchev M 4 Molot

Type: Reconnaissance; Night Fighter

Dimensions: wingspan, 55 feet, 8 inches; length, 39 feet, 11 inches; height, 14 feet, 11 inches

Weights: empty, 10,670 pounds; gross, 18,043 pounds

Power plant: 2 x 2,260-horsepower Nakajima NK1F Sakae radial engines

Performance: maximum speed, 315 miles per hour; ceiling, 30,580 feet; range, 2,330 miles

Armament: 4 x 20mm cannon

Service dates: 1943-1945


he J1N1 was a lumbering, unspectacular ma­chine but did useful service as a high-speed re­connaissance craft. It was later crash-converted into a night fighter but flew too slowly to impact B-29 raids.

The ongoing war with China convinced Japa­nese naval officials of the need for a strategic fighter capable of escorting long-range bombers. By 1938 they could point to the French Potez 63 and German Me 110 as examples of what then seemed a promising new technology. Specifications were then issued for a three-seat aircraft possessing tremendous range and firepower while retaining maneuverability equal to single-seat fighters. Kat – suji Nakamura of Nakajima conceived such a craft that first flew in 1941. Called the J1N1, it was a big twin-engine fighter with a low wing and a two-step fuselage to accommodate a pilot, observer/naviga- tor, and tailgunner. Another unique feature was the remote-controlled twin barbettes mounting four machine guns. In flight the big craft demonstrated good speed and handling, but it was in no way com­
parable to a fighter. The navy then decided to strip it of excess equipment for use as a high-speed re­connaissance craft. Thus, in 1943 the J1N1 entered service as the Gekko (Moonlight); Nakajima manu­factured 477.

The Gekko was first encountered during the later phases of the Solomon Islands campaign and failed to distinguish itself in its appointed role. The Americans, who perceived it as a fighter of some kind, bestowed the code name Irving. At length Commander Yasuna Kozono of the Rabaul garrison suggested fitting the big craft with oblique 20mm cannons to operate as a night fighter. Several air­craft were so modified and enjoyed some success against B-24 Liberators. Consequently, the majority of J1N1s were retrofitted to that standard. The fuse­lages were cut down to accommodate two crew members, and they were fitted with 20mm cannons and AI radar. Most Irvings flew in defense of the homeland but lacked the speed necessary to engage high-flying B-29s. Consequently, most spent their final days employed as kamikazes.

. Myasishchev M 4 Molot

Type: Fighter

Dimensions: wingspan, 37 feet, 1 inch; length, 24 feet, 8 inches; height, 10 feet, 8 inches

Weights: empty, 2,447 pounds; gross, 3,946 pounds

Power plant: 1 x 710-horsepower Nakajima Ha-1otsu radial engine

Performance: maximum speed, 265 miles per hour; ceiling, 40,190 feet; range; 389 miles

Armament: 2 x 7.7mm machine guns

Service dates: 1937-1945


he lithe and comely Ki 27 was quite possibly the most maneuverable fighter plane of all time. It was built in greater quantities than any other Japa­nese prewar aircraft.

As in Italy, Japan’s predilection for maneuver­ability in fighter craft outweighed all other tactical considerations. In 1935 the Imperial Japanese Army announced specifications for its first monoplane. Of three contenders, the Nakajima design triumphed based on its startling agility. It was an all-metal, low – wing aircraft employing stressed aluminum skin and flush-riveting. It also featured streamlined, spatted landing gear and the army’s first fully enclosed canopy. The machine was also extremely compact, representing—literally—the smallest fuselage and biggest wing that could be designed around a Naka­jima Kotobuki radial engine. Flight tests revealed it was highly responsive and even more acrobatic than existing Japanese biplanes. It was also somewhat slower than comparable Western machines, a fact that maneuver-oriented Japanese pilots chose to ig­nore. In 1937 the new machine entered into service
as the Ki 27. During World War II Allied intelligence assigned the code name Nate.

No sooner had Ki 27s arrived in China than they swept the skies of outdated Chinese aircraft. In 1939 fighting also flared up between Japan and the Soviet Union along the Mongolian border. Ki 27s saw much hard fighting against Polikarpov I 15 bi­planes, usually with good results, but they were at a disadvantage when opposing faster I 16 mono­planes. To improve pilot vision, later models had a cut-down canopy. Production ceased in 1940 after a run of 3,999 machines. When the Pacific war com­menced in 1941, Ki 27s were conspicuously engaged at Malaysia, the Philippines, and Burma. They easily mastered obsolete Allied machines in those theaters but were less successful against faster Curtiss P-40s of the Flying Tigers. After 1942 Nates were with­drawn from frontline service in favor of the more modern Ki 43 Hayabusas. Most were relegated to training and home defense squadrons, but after 1945 many surviving Ki 27s were impressed into kami­kaze service.

. Myasishchev M 4 Molot

Type: Fighter

Dimensions: wingspan, 35 feet, 6 inches; length, 29 feet, 3 inches; height, 10 feet, 8 inches Weights: empty, 4,211 pounds; gross, 5,710 pounds Power plant: 1 x Nakajima Ha-115 radial engine

Performance: maximum speed, 329 miles per hour; ceiling, 36,745 feet; range, 1,988 miles Armament: 2 x 12.7mm machine guns; 551 pounds of bombs Service dates: 1941-1945


he nimble Ki 43 was the most numerous Japa­nese army fighter despite an inherently limited design potential. Rendered obsolete by modern Al­lied fighters, it remained in frontline service to the bitter end of World War II.

In 1938 the Imperial Japanese Army staff began considering a replacement for the Nakajima Ki 27 fighter and asked Nakajima to comply. As before, they sought an aircraft with peerless maneuverabil­ity, even at the expense of speed, firepower, and pilot protection. A design team under Hideo Itokawa ad­vanced plans for a craft based upon the Nakajima Ki 27, one that was thinner and possessed retractable landing gear. It was a handsome, low-wing mono­plane of extremely light construction, but it was rather low-powered. Subsequent modifications in­cluded bigger wings and combat “butterfly flaps” that greatly enhanced performance and handling quali­ties. One notable weakness was the armament that, to save weight, was restricted to two rifle-caliber ma­chine guns. Nevertheless, the Ki 43 entered the ser­vice in late 1941 as the Hayabusa (Peregrine Fal­
con), possibly the most maneuverable fighter in his­tory. Only 50 Ki 43s were on hand when the Pacific war broke out in December 1941. They nevertheless proved quite an unpleasant surprise to the unsus­pecting Allies, who christen it the Oscar.

The Ki 43 debuted during the successful Japa­nese conquest of Singapore and Burma and swept aside all the Hawker Hurricanes and Brewster Buf­faloes it encountered. They had tougher going against Curtiss P-40s of the Flying Tigers, which re­fused to engage them in a suicidal contest of slow turns. Soon it became apparent that newer and more powerful versions of the fighter were needed, so the Oscar II employed a larger engine, two 12.7mm ma­chine guns, and a three-blade propeller. These new versions retained all of the Hayabusa’s legendary maneuverability. However, by 1943 they were hope­lessly outclassed in the face of new and better Allied machines. Lacking a replacement, Oscars remained in frontline service until 1945, the most numerous Japanese army fighter of the war. Production peaked at 5,919 machines.

. Myasishchev M 4 Molot

Type: Fighter


Dimensions: wingspan, 31 feet; length, 28 feet, 10 inches; height, 10 feet, 8 inches

Weights: empty, 4,614 pounds; gross, 6,598 pounds

Power plant: 1 x 1,520-horsepower Nakajima Ha-109 radial engine

Performance: maximum speed, 376 miles per hour; ceiling, 36,745; range, 1,056 miles

Armament: 2 x 12.7mm machine guns; 2 x 20mm cannon

Service dates: 1942-1945


ike the J2M Jack, the Ki 44 was one of few Japa­nese aircraft designed specifically as an inter­ceptor. It acquired limited success in that role but never enjoyed much popularity among its pilots.

In 1939 the Imperial Japanese Army staff broke with tradition by agitating for interceptor fighters that placed speed and climb over time-hon­ored qualities of maneuverability. Nakajima com­plied with a prototype somewhat based upon its Ki 43 Oscar, which made its maiden flight in August 1940. The new machine, the Ki 44, was a low-wing monoplane as before, but it possessed stubby wings and a bulbous cowling over a large Nakajima Ha-41 radial engine. It was also heavily armed, carrying two light and two heavy machine guns. Flight tests proved that the Ki 44 climbed faster and higher than any Japanese fighter extant. In 1942 limited numbers arrived at the front as the Shoki (Demon Queller), but they were coolly received by pilots accustomed to pristine dogfighters. The Shoki did, in fact, dis­play some dangerous characteristics, and extreme
maneuvers such as snap rolls and spins were forbid­den. After a while, pilots came to appreciate the speed and ruggedness of the Shoki and developed a healthy respect for the plane. The same might be said for the Allies, who christened it the Tojo after Japan’s prime minister. Interestingly, this was the only Japanese warplane identified by a non-Western code name.

The Ki 44 saw limited deployment in China and was latter based at Palembang in Sumatra for de­fense of valuable oil installations there. As newer Al­lied fighters were encountered, subsequent versions of the Tojo introduced stronger engines and greater armament. It was not until 1944, when fleets of U. S. B-29s began plastering Japanese cities, that the Tojo came into its own. Climbing quickly, they proved one of few Japanese fighters capable of engaging the giant bombers at high altitude. The Ki 44 enjoyed some success in this mode, but by 1944 production was halted in favor of the all-around better Ki 84 Hayate. A total of 1,233 were built.

. Myasishchev M 4 Molot

Type: Medium Bomber

Dimensions: wingspan, 67 feet; length, 54 feet, 1 inch; height, 13 feet, 11 inches

Weights: empty, 14,396 pounds; gross, 25,133 pounds

Power plant: 2 x 1,500-horsepower Nakajima Ha-109 radial engines

Performance: maximum speed, 306 miles per hour; ceiling, 30,510 feet; range, 1,243 miles

Armament: 5 x 7.7mm machine guns; 1 x 20mm cannon; up to 2,205 pounds of bombs

Service dates: 1942-1945


he Ki 49 was intended as a much-needed re­placement for the aging Ki 21 Sally. However, it conferred few advantages in terms of perform­ance, and most crews actually preferred the older machine.

Deployment of the Mitsubishi Ki 21 bomber had no sooner begun in 1938 than the Japanese army began contemplating its successor. That year the army staff drafted specifications for a new air­craft featuring crew armor, self-sealing tanks, and the first-ever tail turret mounted in an army bomber. Nakajima, which had earlier lost out to Mitsubishi and ended up producing Ki 21s under license, gained firsthand knowledge about their competitor’s prod­uct and sought to improve upon it. The prototype Ki 49 first flew in August 1939 as an all-metal, mid­wing aircraft with retractable undercarriage. Its inner wing possessed a wider chord than the outer sections to accommodate self-sealing fuel tanks. The trailing edge also mounted full-length Fowler flaps to enhance takeoff and climbing characteris­tics. The craft completed test flights, and pilots
praised its handling qualities but otherwise deemed it underpowered. Nonetheless, production was au­thorized in 1941, and the first Ki 49 units were de­ployed in China. Known officially as the Donryu (Storm Dragon), it performed well enough against weak Chinese resistance but represented only mar­ginal improvement over the earlier Ki 21. It eventu­ally received the Allied code name Helen.

The Ki 49 saw extensive service along the Ja­panese Empire’s southern fringes. It debuted during the February 1942 attack on Port Darwin, Australia, and was frequently encountered over New Guinea. But despite armor and heavy armament, the Helen proved vulnerable to fighters and lost heavily. Naka­jima responded by fitting subsequent versions with bigger engines and more guns, but the type re­mained too underpowered to be effective. After the

U. S. invasion of the Philippines in 1944, where Ki 49s were sacrificed in droves, they were finally withdrawn from frontline service. Most spent the rest of their days as antisubmarine craft, transports, or kamikazes. Only 819 were built.

. Myasishchev M 4 Molot

Type: Fighter

Dimensions: wingspan, 36 feet, 10 inches; length, 32 feet, 6 inches; height, 11 feet, 1 inch Weights: empty, 5,864; gross, 8,576 pounds

Power plant: 1 x 1,900-horsepower Nakajima Ha-45 radial engine Performance: maximum speed, 392 miles per hour; ceiling, 34,450; range, 1,347 miles Armament: 2 x 12.7mm machine guns; 2 x 20mm cannons; up to 1,100 pounds of bombs Service dates: 1944-1945


he Ki 84 was the best Japanese army fighter of World War II to reach large-scale production. Fast, well-armed, and well-protected, it could easily outfly the formidable P-51 Mustangs and P-47 Thunderbolts.

By 1942 the attrition of experienced Japanese pi­lots forced the High Command to reconsider its phi­losophy of fighter design. By default, they concluded that maneuverability had lost ground to high perform­ance, firepower, and pilot survivability. Accordingly, specifications were issued for a new machine to re­place the aging Ki 43s in service. Nakajima subse­quently fielded the prototype Ki 84 that flew in April

1943. This was a handsome, low-wing fighter with an extremely advanced power plant, the Nakajima Ha-45 radial. To the surprise of many, the new design pos­sessed impressive qualities of speed and climb with­out sacrificing the cherished maneuverability of ear­lier machines. More important, it was also well-armed for a Japanese fighter, mounting two cannons and two heavy machine guns. The decision was made to pur­
sue production immediately, and the Ki 84 entered ser­vice as the Hayate (Gale) during the autumn of 1944. Allies gave it the code name Frank.

The first production batches of Ki 84s gave the 14th Air Force in China an extremely hard time, demonstrating marginal superiority over such stal­warts as the P-51 and P-47. As more became avail­able, they fleshed out fighter units in the Philippines, where a major invasion was anticipated. In combat the Frank was an outstanding fighter plane, strong enough to be fitted with bombs for ground-attack purposes. However, its Achilles’ heel was the Ha-45 direct-injection engine, which was complex, re­quired constant maintenance, and was frequently unreliable. Japan was also experiencing an alarming decline in quality control, for vital parts such as landing gear began inexplicably snapping off during touchdown. The Frank nonetheless gave a good ac­count of itself until war’s end and confirmed Japan’s ability to design first-rate warplanes. Production of these outstanding craft came to 3,514 machines.

. О Aichi D3A Japan

Type: Dive-Bomber

Dimensions: wingspan, 47 feet, 2 inches; length, 33 feet, 7 inches; height, 10 feet, 11 inches

Weights: empty, 5,310 pounds; gross, 5,772 pounds

Power plant: 1 x 1,080-horsepower Mitsubishi Kinsei 44 radial engine

Performance: maximum speed, 242 miles per hour; ceiling, 30,050 feet; range, 970 miles

Armament: 3 x 7.7mm machine guns; 816 pounds of bombs

Service dates: 1938-1945


espite its obsolete appearance, the Val was re­sponsible for sinking more Allied warships than any other Axis aircraft during World War II. It was subsequently employed in great numbers as a sui­cide plane (the dreaded kamikazes).

In 1936 the Imperial Japanese Navy decided to replace its aging Aichi D1A biplane dive – bombers with a more modern craft. A competition was held among several firms, and Aichi entered the winning design. It was the first all-metal mono­plane bomber employed by the Japanese navy and owed much to the earlier Heinkel He 70. The D3A was a radial-engine low-wing monoplane with spat­ted fix undercarriage. Like the He 70, the large wing was elliptically shaped and canted slightly up­ward past the midsection. Test flights indicated the need for enhanced stability, so production models were fitted with a lengthy dorsal fin. D3As became operational in 1938 and were popular with crews. They were robust, highly maneuverable, and could dogfight once bombs were dropped. After Decem­
ber 1941, D3As formed the front ranks of Japan’s elite carrier-based aviation squadrons.

The D3A, or Val, as it was code-named, quickly emerged as the terror of Allied shipping. Commenc­ing with the attack on Pearl Harbor, they accompa­nied the first wave, inflicting heavy damage on nu­merous U. S. battleships. D3As then ventured to the Indian Ocean, sinking the British carrier HMS Her­mes and cruisers Dorsetshire and Cornwall. They proved uncannily accurate: No less than 82 percent of bombs dropped by Vals struck their intended victims! Vals remained a potent force through the first half of 1942 before sustaining heavy losses at the Battles of Coral Sea and Midway. Thereafter, Japanese naval aviation could not replace their highly trained air­crews, and efficiency waned. By 1943 an improved version, the D3A2, arrived, featuring a cleaner cowl and a spinner, but Vals suffered greatly at the hands of improved Allied fighters. Those not hacked down in combat spent their last days as kamikazes. A total of 1,495 of these impressive bombers were produced.